Last Wednesday, the day our nation’s Capitol was struck by a riot, the United States recorded 3,964 deaths from Covid-19, a record high. On that day, Covid-19 claimed a life every 22 seconds. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predict the country will surpass more than 400,000 deaths from Covid this month.
The challenge ahead is enormous.
On January 20th, I will be heading the CDC, which was founded in 1946 to address the very challenges posed by this pandemic. I have agreed to serve as CDC director because I believe in the agency’s mission and commitment to knowledge, statistics and guidance. I will do this by leading with facts, science, and integrity – and being accountable for it, as the CDC has done since it was founded 75 years ago.
I acknowledge that our team of scientists will have to work very hard to restore public confidence in the CDC, both domestically and internationally, as it has been undermined over the past year. During this period, numerous reports found that White House officials were disrupting the CDC’s official guidelines
As the director of the Infectious Diseases Division at Massachusetts General Hospital, I and many others found these reports extremely troubling. The science of the CDC – the gold standard for public health in the country – is tarnished. Hospitals, doctors, state health officials, and others rely on the CDC’s guidelines not only for the Covid-19 guidelines for quarantine, isolation, testing, and vaccinations, but strategies for staying healthy while traveling Obesity Prevention & Food Safety Information and More.
As CDC Director, I am responsible for ensuring that the public trust the agency’s guidance and that its employees feel supported. On my first day, I will ask Anne Schuchat, the Deputy Chief Executive Officer with 32 years of experience at the CDC, to begin a full review to ensure that all existing guidelines regarding Covid-19 are evidence-based and policy-free.
Restoring public confidence in the CDC is vital. Hospitals and health care providers are more than tired, more than stretched. I know because I was among them on the front lines of the Covid-19 response in Massachusetts. We also face the need for the largest public health operation in a century, with two vaccinations of populations to protect ourselves and each other from a growing pandemic. Since the effects of Covid-19 will not apply to everyone equally, we must redouble our efforts to reach every corner of the US population.
Research and guidance from CDC officials should continue regardless of which political party is in power. New scientific breakthroughs do not follow a four-year term. As I begin my new duties, I will share what we know, when we know, with the President, Congress and the public, and I will do so even when the news is grim or when the information may not meet the needs of the public Management correspond to hear.
The CDC’s partnership with Congress has never been so important. The past year has shown how frail, poorly maintained public health infrastructure can bring a great country to its knees. Public health has been compromised and underfunded for years. The aid package that Congress passed in December is a good start, but more funds are certainly needed to accelerate the pace of vaccine adoption. Strengthen data reporting, management and analysis; and conduct proper surveillance not only of this virus but also of future pathogenic threats.
Our successful recovery from this virus requires that we ensure that those who have suffered disproportionately are no longer left behind. As the CDC director, I will work to address inequalities that have resulted in African American, Latino and American Indians being hospitalized and dying at disproportionately higher rates of Covid-19 by focusing on the health conditions that exist in color communities prevalence.
Our nation is facing myriad collateral damage from this pandemic. Life expectancy among middle-aged adults had already fallen in recent years. Data will likely show that in the past year we’ve lost more hard-earned ground to immunizing children, helping people control their blood pressure, and reducing the rate of preventable chronic disease. The rates of substance use, opioid overdoses, depression and suicide have all increased. We are in the midst of a behavioral crisis that requires intervention.
I promise to work with my colleagues at the CDC to harness the power of American science and face these challenges.
Rochelle P. Walensky (@rwalensky), director of the Infectious Diseases Division at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor at Harvard Medical School, has been named director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by President-elect Biden.
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