A woman in front of a blue background in front of a cdc logo.

CDC Director says COVID guidance to the public was confusing and overwhelming

“For 75 years, the CDC and public health have been preparing for COVID, and in our big moment, our performance did not reliably meet expectations,” said CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky. That’s the message delivered to staff of the CDC as an announcement came that there will be a revamping of the agency.

“My goal is a new, public health, action-oriented culture at C.D.C. that emphasizes accountability, collaboration, communication and timeliness,” said Walensky.

The New York Times reported Walensky’s address was “a sweeping rebuke of her agency’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying it had failed to respond quickly enough and needed to be overhauled. – to be frank, we are responsible for some pretty dramatic, pretty public mistakes, from testing to data to communications.”

Walensky’s calls this a watershed moment for the CDC and says the agency needs “to pivot” to react to it and be prepared to move forward effectively.

Efforts needed are taking a more public health direction as opposed to an academic, science approach – a faster response to infectious disease outbreaks – adding an equity overlay – and clear, concise messages to the public that can be found without scrolling through hundreds of website pages, including those that contradict one another. Walensky acknowledged that many staff left after a few months, and she would ask for a 6-month commitment for those working on critical public health campaigns/issues.

Mary Wakefield, a former deputy health secretary in the Obama administration, was appointed to lead the reforms. Other internal report systems are being restructured. Also mentioned was to incentivize staff for public health accomplishments more than the number of scientific papers they publish.

A former CDC director, the New York Times reports, Dr. Besser, says it is hard to make these changes when employees aren’t together and at present the majority of CDC employees are not in the large, expansion building in Atlanta, but rather, are working from home.

There is a call to not make this strictly a one-agency revamp, but all states should look at how their Health Departments and other state and local agencies approach public health issues that need fast and accurate response. Walensky said, “The CDC alone can’t fix this. Businesses have to help, the government has to help, school systems have to help. This is too big for the CDC alone.”

Reports are that Walensky’s statement was not made at the direction of The White House and that she hoped to continue to find ways to avoid politics and political pressure in doing the work of the CDC.

Editor’s Note: The video of Walensky’s presentation was not released to the public. This is a developing story.

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  1. Kyle Gauvin on August 18, 2022 at 12:13 pm

    I wish Jennifer Olsen at RIDOH and Dr McDonald would openly apologize for how many healthcare workers they drove from the field and punished for not “following cdc updates even as the director of the cdc admits their own policies contradict themselves. Maybe reimburse the facilities who are struggling the inane fines given out for not swimming fast enough as they stepped on providers heads to keep us under water. We will be lucky if LTC and SNF even survive the next two years because of them be the legislatures like Josh Miller and the current speaker of the house.