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U.S. CDC plans to focus on public health response after pandemic failings

Reuters logo Reuters 8/17/2022 By Julie Steenhuysen
FILE PHOTO: A general view of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta © Reuters/Tami Chappell FILE PHOTO: A general view of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta

By Julie Steenhuysen

(Reuters) -The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it will prioritize its public health response in a revamp of its structure after months of criticism over its handling of the COVID-19 and monkeypox pandemics.

A briefing document provided by the agency on Wednesday said an external report into its response found public guidance had caused confusion, while important information were sometimes released too late to inform federal decisions.

FILE PHOTO: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in San Francisco © Reuters/CARLOS BARRIA FILE PHOTO: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in San Francisco

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in response the agency was undertaking a series of changes designed to make it more nimble at responding, quicker at providing data and less focused on publishing fully vetted scientific papers.

"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 told CDC staff.

"I want us all to do better and it starts with CDC leading the way," she said, adding that the focus will be on creating an "action-oriented" culture that emphasizes accountability, collaboration, communication and timeliness.

According to a background briefing document shared with Reuters, plans to modernize the agency include giving the CDC new authority to require states to report data and changes that will allow the CDC to hire staff more quickly and offer more competitive salaries. Both actions will require authorization from Congress.

As part of the changes, the CDC will name Mary Wakefield, former acting deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration, to lead a team to help implement the restructuring, the agency said.

The steps follow the external review ordered by Walensky in April of its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To encourage faster communication, Walensky wants to create an online mechanism to share findings before they are completely published and expedite the data review process.

(Reporting by Leroy Leo in Bengaluru and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Arun Koyyur, Alexander Smith and Diane Craft)

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