- Dr. Rochelle Walensky, previously an HIV researcher at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, is the Centers for Disease Control's new director.
- With the national COVID-19 death toll surpassing 400,000 deaths, Walensky has acknowledged that rebuilding public trust and bolstering the vaccination plan will be top priorities.
- The Trump administration often sidelined and discredited the CDC, and the agency has also been criticized for its own inconsistent guidelines throughout the pandemic.
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As one of President Joe Biden's most critical appointments, new Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has begun to outline the agency's direction amid a raging pandemic.
Assuming the reigns from former director Robert Redfield, Walensky said, "Better, healthier days lie ahead. But to get there, COVID-19 testing, surveillance, and vaccination must accelerate rapidly."
In the press release, Walensky expanded on the agency's first actions and focused on transparency. Walensky, previously an infectious-diseases specialist at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, said the "CDC will continue to focus on what is known - and what more can be learned - about the virus to guide America."
Addressing the inconsistent and at times controversial nature of guidances issued by the CDC during the pandemic and Trump's tenure, Walensky noted that the CDC's Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat "will begin leading a comprehensive review of all existing guidance related to COVID-19. Wherever needed, this guidance will be updated so that people can make decisions and take action based upon the best available evidence."
With the national COVID-19 death toll surpassing 400,000 deaths, Walensky has acknowledged that rebuilding public trust in the agency will be a top priority. Throughout the pandemic, the CDC was routinely sidelined by the Trump administration, and at times, directly challenged and politicized.
In February 2020, the CDC came under fire for sending flawed COVID-19 test kits to states. Weeks later, the agency's experts were phased out of COVID-19 press briefings for sharing scientific guidance, which clashed with the Trump administration's version of reality.
Early in the pandemic, the CDC recommended only sick people or those caring for sick people should wear masks. They later reversed that advice and called for the widespread wearing of masks, but the change in direction fomented distrust.
The CDC also removed guidance that called for limiting church choir rehearsals and performances as studies showed a high risk of transmission with groups singing indoors for long periods of time. Later, under Redfield's leadership, the agency rolled back a guideline calling for people who came into contact with an infected person to get tested, but reinstated it after pressure from the scientific community.
Walensky becomes director as the tracking of COVID-19 statistics has largely been taken over by universities and researchers with more effective and reliable dashboards than the CDC's.
Prior to his inauguration, Biden indicated that he would request $160 billion in funding for vaccinations and other programs, with the ambitious goal of expanding the public health workforce by 100,000 jobs.