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CDC director says she isn’t conveying enough ‘uncertainty’ about COVID-19

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said she plans to do a better job communicating the agency’s COVID-19 policies.

In an interview published Monday, Walensky acknowledged that the manner in which the CDC went about loosening its COVID-19 isolation guidelines in December caused public confusion, but she defended the timing of the decision and argued that it was based on more than 100 research papers on the delta and alpha variants.

ROCHELLE WALENSKY STRUGGLES WITH COMMUNICATION

“We felt the need to take action before we had omicron-specific data,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “I think what I have not conveyed is the uncertainty in a lot of these situations.”

Walensky was emphasizing how guidelines are bound to change as the nature of the coronavirus pandemic changes, a dynamic she hopes to convey more effectively moving forward. The report said Walensky is being coached by a media consultant and plans to hold more solo press conferences in the coming months — separate from the ones with the White House COVID-19 Response Team.

Critics have accused the agency of adjusting its guidelines based on factors unrelated to science. The CDC announced its intent to loosen its isolation guidance Dec. 27, about a week after it received a letter signed by executives at Delta Air Lines asking for loosening guidance Dec. 21. The agency cut its isolation guidance from 10 days after a COVID-19 infection down to five days for asymptomatic people, followed by five days of masking.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies before a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine the federal response to COVID-19 and new emerging variants.

(Shawn Thew/Pool via AP)

The decision to loosen the restrictions drew criticism from prominent doctors and experts. For example, Jerome Adams, who served as the U.S. surgeon general under the Trump administration, recommended that the public ignore the new guidance on COVID-19 isolation from the CDC. Adams suggested that the decision came from economic motives.

In the face of this criticism, the CDC added language saying a person could take a test after an infection if they wished but did not say it was required.

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The CDC has also drawn criticism for other reversals in public guidance during the pandemic. Just last summer, the agency faced criticism for reversing its prior mask guidance for vaccinated people amid the onset of the delta variant, recommending that everyone wear a mask indoors regardless of vaccination status. When questioned about its reversal, the CDC cited unpublished data.

“These guidelines, like most of the Biden administration’s actions these days, make little sense and seem without scientific direction,” Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, said in response to the CDC’s mask policy change last summer.

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