Five former CDC directors explain dire mistakes in America's coronavirus ...

As the US surpasses a grim milestone of more than five million coronavirus cases and 162,430 deaths, it's clear that the nation's handling of the virus has been far from ideal. 

Five former directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have now come forward to give their takes on where the government went wrong with its response to the pandemic in an interview with ABC News.  

The directors - Drs Richard Besser, Julie Gerberding, Tom Frieden, Jeffrey Koplan and David Satcher - were largely in agreement about the missteps, which centered around one key theme: leadership. 

They emphasized how damaging it was to have political and public health leaders delivering mixed messages about the size of the threat the virus posed, in many cases downplaying its magnitude. 

The doctors, who served under both Democrat and Republican presidents from 1993 to 2009, also lamented about how little preparation was made in the years ahead of COVID-19's emergence, despite many warnings that a new pandemic could be on the way. 

But the group shared hope that the crisis is temporary, and there are ways that it can be stunted sooner than currently projected if the nation's leaders can get their act together. 

Five former directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spoke about where they think the US government went wrong with its coronavirus response in an interview with ABC News. Pictured is Dr Tom Frieden, who served as director from 2009 to 2017

Five former directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spoke about where they think the US government went wrong with its coronavirus response in an interview with ABC News. Pictured is Dr Tom Frieden, who served as director from 2009 to 2017

Dr Jeffrey Koplan

Dr David Satcher

The other four former directors who participated in the interview were (clockwise from top left): Dr Julie Gerberding, Dr Richard Besser, Dr David Satcher and Dr Jeffrey Koplan

Mistake 1: Politicians sending mixed messages about the virus instead of letting science - namely, the CDC - lead the way  

'This is the first public health response where the ground rules weren't set up that we would be driven by the best available public health science,' Dr Besser, who served as acting director of the CDC in 2009 under President Barack Obama, said in the ABC News interview published Thursday. 

'When you have political leaders and public health leaders coming at this with very different messaging, [and] when you don't see the political leadership supporting public health science, you lose trust.' 

Besser highlighted the fact that mixed messages caused people to question whether the government's actions in response to the pandemic were rooted in science, or politically-motivated. 

'That leads to an undermining of the efforts to control something that is truly controllable,' he said. 

Besser and three of the other former CDC heads - Frieden, Koplan and Satcher - took aim specifically at President Donald 's leadership in a July 14 Washington Post op-ed entitled: 'We ran the CDC. No president ever politicized its science the way has.'

In the article they decried the administration's 'extraordinary' undermining of CDC guidelines regarding the reopening of schools, charging that the White House is trying to alter those guidelines for political reasons. 

They wrote that 'sound science' from thousands of experts at the CDC 'is being challenged with partisan potshots, sowing confusion and mistrust at a time when the American people need leadership, expertise and clarity'.

Besser and three of the other former CDC heads - Frieden, Koplan and Satcher - took aim specifically at President Donald Trump's leadership in a July 14 Washington Post op-ed entitled: 'We ran the CDC. No president ever politicized its science the way Trump has'

Besser and three of the other former CDC heads - Frieden, Koplan and Satcher - took aim specifically at President Donald 's leadership in a July 14 Washington Post op-ed entitled: 'We ran the CDC. No president ever politicized its science the way has'

Medical workers are seen wheeling COVID-19 victims out of the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn on April 5

Medical workers are seen wheeling COVID-19 victims out of the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn on April 5

Mistake 2: Leaders 'sugarcoating' the severity of the pandemic

The former CDC directors pointed to 's repeated claims that the virus is 'under control' and 'will disappear' as a key problem in the government's response. 

'Every one of those falsehoods drives away our opportunity to improve our mitigation efforts… and it causes confusion in everyone's mind,' Koplan, who directed the CDC from 1998 to 2002 under Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush, told ABC News.

Koplan added that the truth should be paramount even if certain information paints a bad picture and could be upsetting.  

'Once you lose that edge, then you're behind not just the virus - you're behind the public opinion and people's behavior,' he added.

As of Sunday

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