Dr Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, defended the agency’s new guidelines on Friday reducing the isolation period for people infected with the coronavirus to five days instead of 10, saying she was “science-based”.
Speaking in a sometimes controversial phone briefing with reporters, Dr Walensky also responded to criticism that the agency’s messages were muddled and opaque, saying she had participated in 80 White House briefings since. when he took up his duties and had sometimes answered several questions. times per week.
Friday’s press conference, conducted as the Omicron variant continues to generate a dramatic spike in coronavirus cases, was both rare and remarkable as the independent White House agency’s first briefing since the former President Donald J. Trump ended it in February 2020.
“I’ve heard that you want to hear from the CDC independently,” Dr Walensky said, adding that she expected the briefing to be the first in a long series. A number of journalists, seeking information about the complicated decisions made by the agency, thanked her repeatedly.
A highly regarded infectious disease expert with no government experience, Dr Walensky, who was appointed to lead the CDC early in the Biden administration, faced many challenges. The agency’s reputation and morale have been shaken by Trump’s White House, which has often tried to interfere with its scientific decisions.
Now the nation is heading into the third year of a pandemic with a virus which, Dr Walensky said, “has constantly thrown curveballs,” which has been grueling for healthcare workers and government officials. career at the forefront of the response.
“I think we are all proud to be serving the biggest and greatest public health crisis of our lives,” said one of these officials, Dr Henry Walke, director of the Division of Preparedness and Infections. Emerging CDC, who joined Dr. Walensky on the call. “So yeah, it’s exhausting. And it’s difficult, but good. Wow. I mean, this is the time to lean.
Dr Walke’s presence on the call was also unusual; Career scientists at the CDC have not participated in the press calls since Mr. Trump ended them. Mr Trump had become enraged, Dr Nancy Messonnier, then director of the CDC’s National Vaccination and Respiratory Disease Center, warned during a press briefing that the coronavirus would seriously disrupt the lives of Americans. Dr Messonnier left the CDC last year.
Dr Walensky has come under heavy criticism in recent days for a series of messaging missteps, the latest of which concerned the new isolation guidelines, released last week. Public health experts have criticized his failure to recommend that people infected with the virus test negative before ending the shortened five-day isolation period.
Dr Anthony S. Fauci, the president’s senior medical adviser on the pandemic, and Dr Vivek Murthy, the Surgeon General, have publicly opposed the CDC’s failure to include a test recommendation, further complicating the problem. This week, the CDC clarified that if people had access to the tests, they could take them.
CNN reported on Friday that Dr Walensky had requested media training this fall; a spokesperson for the agency noted that this was “not unusual” for agency directors. And Dr. Walensky herself said she was “committed to continuing to improve as we learn more about science and to communicate that to all of you” and the public.
During Friday’s briefing, Dr Walensky was faced with a barrage of sometimes conflicting questions, including confusion over the advice and its scientific rationale. She said it was based on a scientific review of dozens of articles analyzing the infectivity of the coronavirus, although she admitted many of them were based on variants other than Omicron.
She said it would be weeks before scientists had detailed laboratory data for Omicron – including data showing whether people infected with the highly transmissible variant can become infected again.
“We have indications that if you have had Delta you are likely to be infected with Omicron,” she said, referring to the earlier Delta variant of the virus. But, she said, there is no data yet to suggest “that Omicron is protecting against Omicron.”