Health experts react to 'low confidence' conclusion that COVID-19 came from lab leak

Physicians and other health experts are emphasizing the need to focus on preventing the next disease outbreak and eliminate politics from science in response to the U.S. Energy Department's new conclusion that a mishap at a Chinese laboratory was the most likely cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Energy Department was previously undecided on the pandemic's origins. An official with the agency told The Wall Street Journal that the conclusion is the result of new intelligence, which officials declined to disclose. People who read the classified report said the assessment was made with "low confidence." No other federal agencies have since changed their conclusions regarding the pandemic's origins. 

The new assessment has reignited divide among government officials, with some Republicans calling for additional investigations and for the report to be declassified, The Hill reported Feb. 27. 

Comments from four health experts on the matter: 

Jerome Adams, MD. Former U.S. Surgeon General: "Being asked about COVID origins. We'll never know for sure because China didn't and won't share critical info. The lack of adequate global transparency in an outbreak — no matter the cause — is more important than a D vs. R political fight over origins," he tweeted Feb. 27. 

Anthony Fauci, MD. Former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: "We may never know," he said in response to questions about the Energy Department's assessment during a Feb. 27 fireside chat at The Boston Globe's Health and Biotech Week event. He noted that four other U.S. intelligence agencies do not support the lab leak theory and emphasized the importance of keeping "an open mind." 

Michael Osterholm, PhD. Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis: "I happen to be one of those scientists who's been agnostic on this issue. I think that the data that we do have more often supports the idea that it was a spillover from an animal into humans," he told NPR in a Feb. 27 interview. "But because I've been a long-standing critic of our laboratory safety aspects around the world in terms of the potential for a leak, so I surely have had an open mind on that. But I think the bottom line message is that we just are not ever going to have enough information to come up with a definitive answer, just like some of the classic cold criminal cases have been over the decades." 

Megan Ranney, MD. Emergency physician and academic dean of Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, R.I.: "I don't have a dog in the lab leak argument, other than making sure we never again go through the hell of the last 3 years of #COVID-19, again. Let's concentrate on preventing the next one," she said in a Feb. 27 tweet. Dr. Ranney will join the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Conn., as dean in July.


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