The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday said the agency must make drastic changes to respond better and faster to public health emergencies, following missteps during the Covid pandemic.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky outlined the changes in broad terms in an email to CDC employees Wednesday afternoon. Those include an overhaul of how the agency analyzes and shares data, as well as changes to how the CDC quickly communicates information to the public.
Full coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic
The agency has faced widespread criticism throughout the pandemic for its slow responses and often confusing messaging on masking and other mitigation measures.
“In our big moment, our performance did not reliably meet expectations,” Walensky said in a statement.
“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.”
To meet that goal, Walensky wrote that the agency must share data faster and in a way that speaks to the American public in easy-to-understand language. It’s also anticipated that leadership changes and reorganizations will occur.
“As we move forward, these changes will require a cultural shift,” the email stated.
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 said. “But that doesn’t mean they’re good at explaining it in ways that will be useful to the general public.”
The announcement follows a review of the agency, launched by Walensky in April, “to refine and modernize” the agency, she wrote in the email to employees. Walensky tapped a longtime official within the Department of Health and Human Services, Jim Macrae, to lead the review.
“There’s been a loss of trust at CDC, and to regain trust, you have to have transparency,” Besser 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.”
Macrae’s full report is expected to be made public sometime this week.