After Botched 'Big Moment,' CDC Leader to Make Changes

Dr. Rochelle Walensky announces an agency reset
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 17, 2022 12:40 PM CDT
After Botched 'Big Moment,' CDC Leader to Make Changes
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky testifies during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing to examine the FY 2022 budget request for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on May 19, 2021, in Washington.   (Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool Photo via AP, File)

If you thought the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention botched some things during the COVID pandemic, the head of the CDC agrees with you. Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Wednesday announced that big changes are required and would be instituted in order to allow the agency to better respond to future public health crises, reports NBC News. "For 75 years, CDC and public health have been preparing for COVID-19, and in our big moment, our performance did not reliably meet expectations," Walensky said in a statement, per the Washington Post. The AP reports the changes, which stem from an internal review of the CDC announced in April and must get the OK of the Department of Health and Human Services secretary, include:

  • Increasing use of preprint scientific reports to get out actionable data, instead of waiting for research to go through peer review and publication by the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
  • Restructuring the agency's communications office and further revamping CDC websites to make the agency's guidance for the public more clear and easier to find.
  • Altering the length of time agency leaders are devoted to outbreak responses to a minimum of six months—an effort to address a turnover problem that at times caused knowledge gaps and affected the agency’s communications.
  • Creation of a new executive council to help Walensky set strategy and priorities.
  • Appointing Mary Wakefield as senior counselor to implement the changes. Wakefield headed the Health Resources and Services Administration during the Obama administration and also served as the No. 2 administrator at HHS. Wakefield, 68, started Monday.

The AP reports it's "customary for each CDC director to do some reorganizing"—Walensky became director in January 2021—but it sees the amount of pressure being put upon her to take action as atypical. The agency has been faulted from the earliest days of the pandemic: for being slow to acknowledge how much of the virus was getting into the States from Europe, for how it handled its recommendations around masks, and for the speed at which it has tested for new variants. "I feel like it's my my responsibility to lead this agency to a better place after a really challenging three years," said Walensky, who noted the effort was CDC-driven and not demanded by the Biden administration.

(More CDC stories.)

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