CDC: We also think we have a messaging problem

When it comes to messaging, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky see the point of her critics. “I think what I have not conveyed is the uncertainty in many of these situations,” she said. Wall Street Journal in an interview published Sunday, admitting that she should have made it clearer that the CDC’s guidance was subject to change based on the evolving COVID pandemic. In fact, many public health experts say officials should update their recommendations as they learn more about the virus. However, the CDC’s approach is a separate issue – one that Walensky, under fire after several weeks of political whipping, is now under heavy pressure to rework.

For several months, the agency has been criticized for the often confusing way in which political decisions, such as disguises of masking and shifting recommendations for social distancing in schools, have been communicated to the public. The latest change – a shortened isolation period for asymptomatic people or those whose symptoms had improved but without a test requirement – came as a surprise to some health experts; a subsequent update of the guide only muddied the water further. “We felt the need to act before we had Omicron-specific data,” Walensky said Journal, noting that the agency then adapted the guide in response to people’s expressed interest in using rapid tests to measure their infectivity. “There are many things that the CDC has rectified, but there have been major mistakes that have not only eroded confidence in the CDC, but also eroded public health confidence more broadly.” Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University, told Politico.

In itself Walenskys Journal interview is a kind of mea culpa; it’s a continuation of the media flash she’s made in recent weeks. In early January, she both held her first independent briefing as a director and sat down for one Sen Show With Stephen Colbert interview. She intends to hold more independent media briefings in the coming months, according to Journal, who says she is being coached by a media consultant. Earlier this month, CNN reported that Walensky has “for months” met with a Democratic media consultant Mandy Grunwald to “improve her communication skills” – a resource she reportedly searched for early stumbles. (CDC did not respond to an e-mail inquiry as to whether Grunwald is the consultant referred to in Journal.)

Whether Walensky can successfully turn things around is an open question. At least one Democrat – Rep. Ro Khanna-has called for Walensky to be replaced by someone who “really has respect for the public health community and has been right in many of the calls.” Frustrations on Capitol Hill were palpable during a Senate hearing last week in which lawmakers pressured Walensky and Anthony Fauci, the country’s best expert in infectious diseases. “I do not question science,” the Republican senator said Richard Burr said to Walensky. “But I question your communication strategies. It’s no wonder the American people are confused. “In an interview with Politico, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, acknowledged the challenges involved in imparting evolving science, but added that “the rules must be clear and the CDC must be clearer than it has been.”

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Recent media mistakes were explicitly referred to during the Senate’s consultation with the senator Bob Casey asks for clarification on a widely circulated clip of Walensky’s ABC News interview that, thanks to a misleading editing job, seemed to suggest that most people who die from COVID-19 have “at least four” sequelae. (In fact, she hinted at it the most vaccinated people dying of COVID-19 have comorbidities.) The controversy over the quote, which sparked outrage among disabled communities and was exploited by right-wing figures like Donald Trump Jr., was ultimately ABC News’ fault, but it did Walensky no favors. According to Washington Post, “Walensky and CDC officials spent several days trying to undo the damage after Friday’s broadcast.”

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