The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will undergo a comprehensive month-long review and assessment, a first step in modernizing its systems and processes and transforming them for the future, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the agency, announced Monday. .
The move follows an unrelenting barrage of criticism regarding the agency’s handling of the pandemic in recent months. The review will be led by Jim Macrae, who served as acting administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration for two years and has held other senior positions at the federal Department of Health and Human Services, of which the CDC is a part. Mr. Macrae will begin his assignment on April 11th.
“The lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic, along with the feedback I have received inside and outside the agency over the past year, indicate that it is time to step back and strategically position CDC to support the future of the public health”. Dr. Walensky said in an email to agency employees.
Three senior CDC officials: Acting Senior Deputy Director Dr. Deb Houry; the director of operations, Robin Bailey; and Chief of Staff Sherri Berger will gather feedback on the agency’s structure and “solicit suggestions for strategic change,” Dr. Walensky said.
At the end of what he described as a “collective effort,” the agency will develop new systems and have a plan for how the agency should be structured.
A CDC spokesperson said the agency had worked to speed up data reporting and science processes over the past year, but more needed to be done, including finding “new ways to adapt the agency’s structure to the changing environment.” “.
Dr. Walensky said the review would focus on the agency’s core capabilities: the public health workforce, data modernization, laboratory capacity, health equity, rapid responses to disease outbreaks, and preparation, both in the United States and around the world.
“Over the past year, I have heard from many of you that you would like to see CDC build on its rich history and modernize for the world around us,” Dr. Walensky said in her email. Thanking her employees, she said, “I am grateful for their efforts to support the hard work of transforming CDC for the better.”
The CDC has long been revered for its scientific and methodical approach to improving public health around the world. Scientists outside the United States were trained by agency experts, and its standards have been accepted and emulated globally.
But the agency’s infrastructure has been neglected for decades, like the nation’s public health system in general, and the pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges. Early on, the CDC made key mistakes in testing and surveillance, for example the famously clumsy design of a diagnostic kit sent to state labs.
Officials were late in recommending the use of masks, in part because agency scientists did not quickly recognize that the virus was airborne. In May of last year, Dr. Walensky announced that vaccinated people could remove their masks indoors and outdoors; Just a few weeks later, it became clear that vaccinated people could not only contract advanced infections, but could also transmit the virus.
In August, Dr. Walensky joined President Biden in supporting booster shots for all Americans, before scientists at the Food and Drug Administration or her own agency reviewed the data to determine if they were needed.
More recently, the highly contagious variant of Omicron has prompted the CDC to issue recommendations based on what was once considered insufficient evidence, amid growing public concern about how these guidelines affect the economy and education.
In December, the CDC shortened the isolation period for infected Americans to five days, though it appears many infected people can spread the virus for longer. In recent weeks, some experts have criticized the agency for changing the metrics used to assess risk and determine appropriate local measures, in order to appease commercial and political interests.
Supporters of Dr. Walensky say the agency has been given an extraordinary task and that the CDC is doing its best under extremely difficult circumstances, especially since most employees have been working remotely.
In a separate statement released to the public Monday, Dr. Walensky said that “never in its 75-year history has the CDC had to make decisions so quickly, based on often limited, real-time, evolving science.”