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CDC announces overhaul after COVID-19 response failed 'expectations'

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Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Wednesday announced a series of changes to the agency after an external report criticized it for slow responses and a lack of transparency. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/d021acea208c9085a2ab2c664c426242/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Wednesday announced a series of changes to the agency after an external report criticized it for slow responses and a lack of transparency. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 17 (UPI) -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced plans Wednesday to overhaul the agency after reviews found it fell short in its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and responded too slowly to the monkeypox outbreak.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced a series of changes, including how the agency shares important health information with the public.

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"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 said in an email to staff. "As a longtime admirer of this agency and a champion for public health, I want us all to do better."

Walensky said the changes will shift the CDC to a more public-focused agency from its previous academic mindset that created "confusing and overwhelming documents" as well as a website that is "not easy to navigate."

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The CDC promised to publish scientific data quicker with "plain language" guidance. It will tap former Deputy Health and Human Services Secretary Mary Wakefield to create a new executive council to implement the changes.

"My goal is a new, public health action-oriented culture at CDC that emphasizes accountability, collaboration, communication and timeliness," Walensky said.

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The announcement comes after an external review earlier this year.

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Led by HHS official Jim Macrae, the review criticized the CDC's slow response in sharing scientific data and lack of transparency as to its "current level of understanding" during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Macrae interviewed 120 CDC staffers and people outside the agency to come up with recommended improvements -- including faster release of scientific data, translating confusing science into easy-to-understand information, working better with other health agencies and training CDC staff to respond better to public health emergencies.

A second review by CDC Chief of Staff Sherri Berger examined the agency's operations, finding the "traditional scientific and communication processes were not adequate to effectively respond to a crisis the size and scope of the COVID-19 pandemic," according to a CDC statement.

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Both external reviews were ordered after the CDC faced public backlash for shifting and confusing guidance over mask-wearing, testing and isolation.

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the mistakes the CDC made with COVID-19 are being repeated with the monkeypox outbreak.

"Our country's response to monkeypox has been plagued by the same shortcomings we had with COVID-19," Gottlieb wrote in The New York Times last month.

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"Now if monkeypox gains a permanent foothold in the United States and becomes an endemic virus that joins our circulating repertoire of pathogens, it will be one of the worst public health failures in modern times, not only because of the pain and peril of the disease, but also because it was so avoidable."

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