The strange case of Dr Linda Quick: The axed CDC expert who could've raised alert about coronavirus much earlier
Dr Linda Quick, an epidemiologist, was posted to China to do one important job: helping detect disease outbreaks there
Amid the US-China dispute, the Trump administration ended the tenure of a scientist who could have played a key role in the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak in China. Her real-time inputs on the ground situation could have come in handy at a time when China reportedly silenced its citizens from speaking up, says a report from Reuters.
Dr Linda Quick, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was posted to China to do one important job: helping detect disease outbreaks in China. But the Trump administration terminated her post. Her post was funded by the CDC between 2007 and 2011.
She reportedly learnt that the federally funded post — officially referred to as resident adviser to the US Field Epidemiology Training Program in China — would be discontinued as of September, says the report. She was not replaced by other foreign disease experts.
Dr Bao-Ping Zhu, who had also served in that position, and is now the Director of Performance Management and Scientific Research in Decatur, Georgia, rued that her post was left empty. "If someone had been there, public health officials and governments across the world could have moved much faster,” he said.
According to a profile description on CDC’s website, Dr Quick joined CDC in 1995 through the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS), which is a two-year postgraduate program of service and training in applied epidemiology.
Before joining CDC, she was a visiting professor at the Dali Medical College Xiaguan in Yunnan Province, China (1991-1992). She has also served as the Medical Director for the International Rescue Committee during the war in Bosnia from 1992-1994.
“Since then, she has worked on many global health issues and has served as a CDC assignee to WHO and UNICEF working on disease program evaluation, vaccine-preventable disease surveillance, and polio eradication mass campaigns and training programs,” says her profile description.
In China, Dr Quick was also tasked with training Chinese field epidemiologists, who help track, investigate and contain diseases. Other sources told Reuters that Dr Quick was in an ideal position to be the eyes and ears on the ground for the US and other countries on the coronavirus outbreak, and might have alerted them to the growing threat weeks earlier.
Currently, the COVID-19 has hit more than 100 countries, sickening more than 341,365 people and killing more than 14,000 people.
When reporters questioned Trump during a press briefing, he dismissed it. He said that it is “100 percent wrong,” without addressing whether the role had been eliminated.
The CDC told Reuters that the elimination of the post did not block Washington’s ability to get information and “had absolutely nothing to do with CDC not learning of cases in China earlier.”
They added that one of the reasons why the agency pulled the plug on the post was due to China’s excellent technical capability and maturity of the program.
But not everyone agrees that retaining that post would have helped. One disease expert told Reuters that he was unsure if the US resident adviser would have been able to gather information, given how China suppresses the flow of information.