The head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced plans to overhaul the agency Wednesday — while admitting to major “mistakes” in handling the pandemic.
“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,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.
“I want us all to do better and it starts with CDC leading the way,” she said of her agency’s more than 11,000 staff.
In a separate interview, Walensky said of the pandemic response, “It’s not lost on me that we fell short in many ways.”
“We had some pretty public mistakes, and so much of this effort was to hold up the mirror … to understand where and how we could do better.”
She shared a similar message in a video breaking the news Wednesday to staffers, many of whom may be reshuffled in the “reset,” one person who saw it told Bloomberg.
“Prior to this pandemic, our infrastructure within the agency and around the country was too frail to tackle what we confronted with COVID-19,” she said, according to the insider.
“To be frank, we are responsible for some pretty dramatic, pretty public mistakes — from testing, to data, to communications,” she reportedly admitted.
The planned “reset” will revamp everything from the CDC’s operations to its culture, moving away from focusing on academic studies to instead prioritize responding to emerging emergencies, Bloomberg noted.
“My goal is a new, public health action-oriented culture at CDC that emphasizes accountability, collaboration, communication and timeliness,” Walensky said, saying it will help the CDC meet its “fullest potential.”
The reset comes after widespread criticism of the slow response to the pandemic, along with mixed messaging on masks, mandates, social distancing and testing.
There has also been mounting criticism of its response to other public health threats, including the alarming spread of monkeypox.
Mary Wakefield, 68, who headed the Health Resources and Services Administration during the Obama administration, has already started work this week as a senior counselor to implement the changes.
A new executive council is also being created to help Walensky set strategy and priorities, she said.
The overhaul is a CDC initiative, and was not directed by the White House or other administration officials, insisted Walensky, who became director in January 2021.
“I feel like it’s my responsibility to lead this agency to a better place after a really challenging three years,” Walensky said.
However, Jason Schwartz, a health policy researcher at the Yale School of Public Health, stressed that the federal failings go beyond the CDC, because the White House and other agencies were heavily involved.
A CDC reorganization is a positive step but “I hope it’s not the end of the story,” Schwartz said.
With Post wires