Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is planning to reorganize the agency amid rising criticism of its response to the coronavirus pandemic, rising monkeypox cases and other public health crises.
The shakeup includes the creation of new offices, staffing moves and steps to expedite data releases, Walensky informed CDC staff in an internal email Wednesday reported by the Associated Press.
The CDC, which has a $12 billion budget and more than 11,000 employees, has faced fierce criticism for moving too slowly to collect and analyze data over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, shifting recommendations for public safety and failing to ramp up testing fast enough to track new variants.
The reorganization comes after Walensky, who has served as CDC director since January 2021, called for an in-depth review of the agency in April. CDC officials hope to have the changes approved by HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and underway by next year, according to AP.
The suggested changes include restructuring the CDC’s communications office and making public guidance clearer; increasing use of scientific preprints to get out actionable data, instead of waiting for peer review and publication; decreasing staff turnover for outbreak responses; creating a new executive council to assist the CDC director in creating strategy; and creating an office of intergovernmental affairs to communicate and collaborate with other agencies.
A group representing infection preventionists and epidemiologists pointed out that the nation’s public health failures extend well beyond the CDC, including supply chain weakness, misinformation on vaccines and masking, lack of standards and interoperability for gathering public health data and the need to invest in infection prevention and control.
“While improvements to the operation of the CDC are important, they must be done in concert with other key actions in order to build a strong public health system,” the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology said in a statement on the potential CDC reorganization.
The U.S. is currently facing a barrage of public health threats.
Amid widespread fatigue after more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. has relaxed its public health measures, with the CDC announcing pared-down COVID-19 quarantining guidelines on Aug. 11.
The U.S. still has a daily average of about 98,000 COVID-19 infections is still facing roughly 400 deaths per day.
Meanwhile, it’s looking increasingly unlikely that monkeypox will be contained amid a sluggish public health response and a tight supply of vaccines. Additionally, the first reported case of polio since 2013 was detected in New York in July, suggesting that poliovirus has been circulating in the area for months.
“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,” Walensky said in the email, cited by STAT News. “My goal is a new, public health action-oriented culture at CDC that emphasizes accountability, collaboration, communication, and timeliness.”