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CDC cites mistakes in shake-up at US agency

By AI HEPING in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-08-18 10:07
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A sign at the entrance to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is seen in Atlanta, April 19, 2022. [Photo/VCG]

The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Wednesday that the nation's top public health agency will undergo major changes, saying its COVID-19 response fell short and it must respond better and faster to public health emergencies.

"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," Dr Rochelle Walensky admitted in a statement to the Wednesday. "My goal is a new, public health, action-oriented culture at CDC that emphasizes accountability, collaboration, communication and timeliness," she wrote. "I want us all to do better and it starts with CDC leading the way."

Walensky, who was appointed in 2021, outlined the changes in broad terms in an email to CDC employees Wednesday afternoon. They include internal staffing moves, an overhaul of how the agency analyzes and shares data, as well as changes to how the CDC quickly communicates information to the public.

The changes are a CDC initiative and weren't directed by the White House or other Biden administration officials, she said.

The CDC has faced widespread criticism throughout the pandemic for its slow responses and often confusing messaging on masking and other mitigation measures. Health experts have said the agency was too slow to recommend people wear masks and to set up testing for new variants. More recently, it has been criticized for its response to the monkeypox virus.

The Atlanta-based agency recently celebrated its 75th anniversary as the nation's leading public health agency charged with protecting Americans from disease outbreaks and other public health threats. It has a $12 billion budget and more than 11,000 employees.

In April, Walensky called for an in-depth review of the CDC to "refine and modernize" the agency, she wrote in the email to employees, which resulted in the announced changes.

She turned to a longtime official within the Health and Human Services Department, Jim Macrae, to lead the review. His full report is expected to be made public sometime this week.

Dr Richard Besser, former acting CDC director and current president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said overhauling the agency's public messaging is "absolutely essential".

"A lot of the scientists at CDC are really good at doing science, and a lot of the responders are really good at doing response," he told NBC News. "But that doesn't mean they're good at explaining it in ways that will be useful to the general public."

"There's been a loss of trust at CDC, and to regain trust, you have to have transparency," he said. "That means sharing all the findings and make the case for why these are the best approaches to addressing the deficiencies that are found."

On Aug 11, the CDC revised its COVID-19 guidance, stating that those exposed to the virus are no longer required to quarantine; unvaccinated people now have the same guidance as vaccinated people; students can stay in class after being exposed to the virus; and it's no longer recommended to screen those without symptoms.

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