CDC's Walensky to Step Down

Experts say change in directors could set back attempts to improve agency
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 5, 2023 5:25 PM CDT
CDC Director to Step Down
Dr. Rochelle Walensky testifies on Capitol Hill in June 2022.   (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, a leader in the federal government's battle against COVID-19, is leaving her job as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That battle has reached a turning point, Walensky pointed out to President Biden in a letter Friday, now that he's changed the US categorization of the pandemic. "The end of the COVID-19 public health emergency marks a tremendous transition for our country, for public health, and in my tenure as CDC Director," Walensky wrote. The World Health Organization declared a similar change Friday. The director plans to leave her job at the end of June, NBC News reports.

Biden said in a statement that Walensky, who has been in the job since he took office, has saved lives. "She led a complex organization on the frontlines of a once-in-a-generation pandemic with honesty and integrity," he said. "She marshalled our finest scientists and public health experts to turn the tide on the urgent crises we've faced." Congressional Republicans critical of the CDC had repeatedly sought Walensky's resignation, per the New York Times. Peers and experts said she faced a steeply uphill battle in the job. And regardless, they said, a change of directors sets back efforts at change.

"So much is at stake as C.D.C. seeks to reorganize and modernize," one expert said. "The timing of this leadership transition is very problematic." Walensky told the agency in an email that she'd made improvements, including "reorganizing the agency and embarking on the necessary work to orient the enterprise toward public health action and foster accountability, timeliness and transparency in our work." Another expert called Walensky's departure a loss. "I know that it has not been easy," she said, "not just because of COVID but because of the politicization of science." As director, Walensky faced public harassment and threats. (More Rochelle Walensky stories.)

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