Just weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began a comprehensive internal review for restructuring, the agency’s director announced Friday that the team that coordinated the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic 19 would hand over some of his duties to other departments. .
But the so-called incident management structure, originally assembled to respond to the public health emergency, is not disbanded and will continue to meet “the demands of this evolving pandemic,” according to a letter sent to employees on Friday by the director of the agency. director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
The move marks the start of efforts to implement comprehensive changes within the agency, whose public image and reputation have suffered in recent years. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, some 60% of Americans, for example, say they are confused by changes in official pandemic recommendations.
But Dr. Walensky’s letter was short on details about the changes. A statement in response to questions from The New York Times only said that “the initial data collection phase of the review has been completed, and now the director will synthesize information, identify themes and prioritize next steps to formalize approaches.” and finding new ways to adapt the agency to the changing environment.
Dr. Walensky told employees last month that the CDC, which has come under a flurry of criticism over its recent handling of the pandemic, would be subject to review and assessment by Jim Macrae. , a federal public servant who held several leadership positions within the Department of Health. and Human Services. This review began on April 11.
The review also examines how to modernize the means by which the agency develops and deploys scientific research, and what other strategic improvements can be done to better serve public health, such as better surveillance systems.
To those ends, the reviewers conducted more than 100 interviews and held nearly 50 one-on-one conversations with public health officials inside and outside the agency, Dr. Walensky said.
The CDC has long been admired for its science-based approach to improving public health. Many scientists around the world have been trained by its experts and have emulated the agency’s standards and methods.
But the CDC’s infrastructure has been neglected for decades, as has the broader public health system. Agency scientists stumbled at the start of the pandemic with the flawed design of a diagnostic test, and then made recommendations on masking, isolation and quarantine that critics accused were based on insufficient evidence.
On Friday, Dr. Walensky indicated that health equity would be a priority for the agency going forward. The pandemic has laid bare the stark racial and ethnic health disparities in the United States. Black, Hispanic and Native American/Alaska Native adults have been hospitalized with Covid and died at higher rates than white Americans.
The roots of inequalities are myriad and include difficulties in accessing care, mistrust of the medical system, higher rates of existing health conditions like obesity and diabetes, and socio-economic circumstances, such as overcrowded housing and consumer-facing jobs, which increased the chances of exposure to the virus.
Dr. Walensky said the lessons learned from the pandemic and the feedback she received made it clear “it’s time to step back and strategically position the CDC to facilitate and support the future of public health.” with a focus on health equity and agency. basic skill.”