CDC director calls for agency reorg after COVID criticism

Health

(NewsNation) — The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday outlined plans to reorganize the agency following a review of its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a memo titled “CDC Review & Next Steps,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced a series of changes to “position the agency to better support the future of public health.”

The memo outlines in broad terms a plan to reorganize the agency’s structure and efforts to curb continuing outbreaks. It includes internal staffing moves and steps to speed up data releases.

The move comes a week after the CDC eased its coronavirus safety guidelines and dropped the long-standing recommendation that Americans quarantine themselves if they come into close contact with an infected person.

CDC leaders call it a “reset,” but the agency has long been criticized for not acting quickly against the global health threat and for confusing masking and mitigation guidelines.

It also comes after an in-depth external review of the agency Walensky ordered in April that, according to a CDC statement, “illustrated that traditional scientific and communication processes were not adequate to effectively respond to a crisis the size and scope of the COVID-19 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,” Walensky said. “I want us all to do better.”

Public unhappiness with the agency grew dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the agency’s responses to monkeypox and other public health threats have received ongoing criticism.

According to the memo, the new directives are designed to not only change how the CDC operates but also its culture, orienting it toward timely action — ensuring CDC’s science reaches the public in an
understandable, accessible, and implementable manner as quickly as possible.

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

Walensky’s plan must be approved by the Department of Health and Human Services secretary. CDC officials say they hope to have a full package of changes finalized, approved, and underway by early next year.

Some of the changes 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.
  • Altering the agency’s organization chart to undo some changes made during the Trump administration.
  • Establishing an office of intergovernmental affairs to smooth partnerships with other agencies, as well as a higher-level office on health equity.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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