The investigation of a salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 270 people in 18 states has been severely hampered by the federal government shutdown, the latest example of how the safety and health of Americans are being threatened by partisan squabbling on Capitol Hill.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) limited staff is already monitoring more than 30 other outbreaks, but with much of its staff furloughed, the agency has had to cease monitoring for some foodborne pathogens, such as shigella and campylobacter, while slowing the pace on active investigations.
Dr. Christopher Braden, director of the CDC department charged with investigating foodborne illnesses, told the Associated Press that the government shutdown has already created a backlog of work, indicating that new discoveries may not be properly addressed because windows of opportunity close on investigations as time passes.
CDC officials have also stopped flu surveillance and closed quarantine stations in 20 international airports and other points of entry, actions that threaten the U.S. public with a rise of illness and infectious diseases.
Cutbacks in other health- and safety-related federal agencies during the shutdown are compounding the risk to Americans. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stopped all routine inspections of domestic and foreign food facilities, which means the risk of contaminated food reaching the public is extremely high. Testing of food entering the U.S. from other countries remains ongoing, but staffing cutbacks have slowed inspections and delivery of food to its destination.
Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) remains staffed for the most part, the agency’s website remains shut down, “preventing concerned members of the public from finding out more information on the salmonella outbreak and other foodborne illnesses,” the Associated Press reported. “The agencies aren’t tweeting or disseminating health safety information except for a few releases to the media.”
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has also ceased nearly all of its workplace inspections, which could allow violations of federal health and safety laws to go unaddressed. According to the AP, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has stopped mine safety inspections, and three mine workers have died in fatal mining accidents on three consecutive days during the shutdown – something that hasn’t happened in more than 10 years.