- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2023

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had to revise an alarming report that overstated the increase in the share of girls who’ve reported being raped, a notable error at a time when the agency is trying to overhaul its operations and regain trust.

The initial report showed a 27% increase between 2019 and 2021 in the share of girls who said they’d been forced into sex. The number and accompanying stats on despair and thoughts of suicide produced big headlines in February.

However, some experts questioned the eye-popping figure and fact-checkers determined the agency used round numbers — 11% in 2019 and 14% in 2021 — instead of the more precise numbers of 11.4% and 13.5%, resulting in an inflated rate of growth when the more accurate uptick would be 18.4%.

A similar error occurred in relaying the share of girls who reported sexual violence. The rate of growth was 17.8% and not 20% as initially reported in CDC graphics.

The blunder came at a pivotal moment for the CDC, which is trying to overhaul its operations so that it is more nimble and a better communicator.

Director Rochelle Walensky ordered the overhaul last year after complaints about its performance during the COVID-19 crisis.

Collected figures on virus cases hospitalizations and deaths were often outdated. The situation forced the agency to think about how it can collect data faster and translate it into actionable advice instead of offering retrospective figures that are more appropriate for scientific journals.

Americans often reported confusion over whether masks were truly effective, particularly after advice changed late in the pandemic to suggest high-quality masks were preferable to cloth ones that many people, including young children, donned through the pandemic.

Others complained said the correct timing for booster shots was unclear or based on political considerations, and that the CDC did little to understand the importance of natural immunity from prior infections.

The agency took heat from scientists who worried the CDC relaxed quarantine guidance as part of a push to emerge from pandemic hysteria as opposed to the virus situation itself.

“In our big moment, our performance did not reliably meet expectations,” Dr. Walensky said in announcing an overhaul in August. “My goal is a new, public health action-oriented culture at CDC that emphasizes accountability, collaboration, communication, and timeliness. I want us all to do better and it starts with CDC leading the way.”

In one way, the CDC report on girls and sexual violence reflected a problem that dogged aspects of the COVID-19 response. The conclusions of the survey were announced before the complete data set is released in April, according to Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler.

Some schools refused to ask about rape and sexual violence, so jurisdictions with lower rates might have been left out of the sample.

Others surveys have found that reports of rape or sexual assault among 12- to 17-year-olds have been flat or declining.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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