CDC's Rochelle Walensky admits poor messaging on COVID guidance, vows to improve

Media top headlines January 17

In media news today, a Utah newspaper calls for the National Guard to prevent the unvaccinated from going anywhere, lawmakers call on NBC to cover human rights protests during the Winter Olympics in China, and CNN frets about Biden’s press treatment.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky acknowledged her agency’s poor messaging in recent weeks as the Omicron variant continues to surge in the United States.

“One year into her tenure as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky acknowledges that she should have communicated certain things better to the American public,” the Wall Street Journal reported about its exclusive interview. “She says the pandemic threw curveballs that she should have anticipated. She thinks she should have made it clearer to the public that new rules and guidelines were subject to change if the nature of the fight against Covid-19 shifted again.”

Rochelle Walensky, Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022. The hearing is titled "Addressing New Variants: A Federal Perspective on the COVID-19 Response." Photographer: Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images
(Photographer: Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Walensky told the WSJ, “I think what I have not conveyed is the uncertainty in a lot of these situations.”

According to the WSJ, Walensky has committed to “communicating CDC policy more clearly” and that she is being coached by a media consultant is set to hold more media briefings outside those held at the White House. 

There was extreme confusion over the CDC’s guidance on whether those who test positive for COVID with or without symptoms should be isolating and for how long. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky gives her opening statement during the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing on "Next Steps: The Road Ahead for the COVID-19 Response" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 4, 2021.
(REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz)

“If you’re positive—you should probably stay at home,” Walensky told WSJ. “But a negative—that doesn’t mean you’re not contagious. And we needed to be very clear about that.”

The CDC director said she has the backing of the Biden administration to improve the agency’s data collection, saying fewer than 200 health facilities across the country had their electronic health records linked to the CDC.

“At the start of the pandemic, some states that were unable to electronically report positive COVID-19 cases had to fax PCR results to the CDC, she said,” the WSJ reported. “Some states were entering positive results first because they didn’t have the capacity to enter all the negative ones, she said, so the CDC initially received a skewed view of what fraction of the population was positive.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been criticized and mocked from all sides after a series of muddled messages have baffled Americans amid a record surge in COVID-19 cases and the spread of the omicron variant. (iStock)

The Journal continued, “Tens of thousands of facilities have upgraded their electronic record-keeping during the pandemic, in part using federal funding, she said. There is still a long way to go, Dr. Walensky said. Modernizing public-health data infrastructure for the federal government and 3,050 state and local health departments would cost about $30 billion over 10 years, the nonprofit Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society said recently.”

“This will not end with COVID… This is not a one and done effort,” Walensky added. 

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