The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rochelle Walensky, announced on Wednesday a profound restructuring that seeks to respond more quickly and effectively to health emergencies such as the coronavirus pandemic. “In our big time, our performance fell short of expectations,” she admitted in an exercise in self-criticism over the agency’s response to COVID-19 .
The adjustments announced by Walensky include internal personnel changes and measures to speed up the publication of health data. This is an initiative raised by the CDC, and not by the White House or other officials of the Joe Biden government, said the director.
“I feel responsible for renewing this agency after three really challenging years,” Walensky said in an interview with The Associated Press news agency.
The CDC, which is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, has a $12 billion budget and more than 11,000 employees. Its primary function is to protect citizens from disease outbreaks and other threats to public health.
Those who have run the agency have also implemented restructurings, but those announced by Walensky are expected to be even more profound given the severity of recent criticism.
The agency has been heavily criticized for its reactions in times of crisis, stopping to collect and analyze data, without acting promptly in the face of new health threats. Experts believe that the CDC was slow to know the extent of the infections in the first days of the pandemic, as well as to order the use of masks and to indicate health guidelines in general.
“During COVID-19 we saw that CDC structures were frankly not designed to digest information and share it with the public with the necessary speed,” said Jason Schwartz, a public health researcher at Yale University.
Walenski became director in January 2021, following Joe Biden’s arrival at the White House, almost a year after the start of the pandemic in March 2020; The first months of response thus corresponded to the team of former President Donald Trump.
From the beginning, he has repeatedly recognized that the agency needs to communicate in a more agile and assertive way, although several slips have occurred throughout his management.
Walenski requested in April an in-depth review of the organization, which has resulted in the changes now announced. His proposal must first be approved by Health Secretary Xavier Becerra, with the changes expected to be implemented in early 2023.
Some of the announced changes include:
Do not wait for the research to be approved in peer-reviewed journals to be able to act in some urgent cases.
Restructure the communications office and renew its websites.
Change the amount of time agency leaders spend on outbreak responses to a minimum of six months.
Create a new council to help the director set priorities.
Appoint Mary Wakefield as lead counselor to implement the changes.
Undo some of the changes that were made to the agency during the Trump administration.
Establish an intergovernmental affairs office to facilitate partnerships with other agencies.