Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Rochelle Walensky admitted that she could have done a better job communicating during her first year in office.
She said the pandemic evolved in some unexpected ways and that she should have communicated “uncertainty” more clearly in her public statements. CDC guidelines are always subject to change and will update with new information, she said.
“I think what I have not conveyed is the uncertainty in a lot of these situations,” she said, adding that she’s committed to being more clear in the future, is being trained by a media coach, and will hold more press briefings apart from the White House COVID-19 response team.
The CDC director has come under scrutiny for the mixed messaging coming from her agency during her tenure, from guidance on what type of mask to wear to quarantine timelines. The CDC recently cut the recommended quarantine time for COVID-positive Americans in half, without suggesting a negative test be required to leave isolation, which led to blowback from critics who said the move was designed to benefit big businesses facing worker shortages.
Walensky said the agency had to respond quickly to alleviate staffing shortages at places like hospitals and pharmacies and did not have time to wait for Omicron-specific data to be gathered. The decision was based on more than 100 studies of multiple COVID-19 variants.
She pointed out that a negative rapid test doesn’t necessarily mean someone isn’t contagious, which is why the CDC didn’t include a negative test in its guidance: “If you’re positive — you should probably stay at home. But a negative — that doesn’t mean you’re not contagious. And we needed to be very clear about that.”
In a recent interview, Walensky said that 75% of deaths were occurring in individuals with at least four co-morbidities, but did not clarify that she was referring to deaths among the vaccinated only. She also refused to refer to the Omicron variant as “mild” in an interview with Fox News’s Bret Baier, redirecting instead to tell Americans to get vaccinated.