The C.D.C.’s New Chief Follows the Science. Is That Sufficient?


“I’m taking a break here, I’m going to lose the script and think about my recurring sense of impending doom,” she said with tears in her eyes. “We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential where we are, and so much reason to hope. But right now I’m scared. “

Her passionate speech frightened many people, perhaps none more than her husband. “She’s not a screamer – if anything, I suffocate a lot more easily than she,” he said. Their openness signaled their “real fear” about the state of the pandemic, he added. “She felt the weight of half a million dead.”

On the day of her plea, she appeared on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” where she said people who had been vaccinated “didn’t have the virus” – an overly optimistic statement that the CDC had to go back. Later that week, new guidelines from the agency said vaccinated people could travel safely, but Dr. Walensky added that the agency didn’t want her to travel at all, an attitude that baffled some Americans.

The most recent case when Dr. Walensky announced that vaccinated people could walk indoors mask-free, backed by the latest research, scientists said. However, many felt that the agency rushed to make a decision to end the use of masks without considering the parts of the country where infections were still high and without understanding the suspicions and cultural conflicts that the would provoke new advice.

“CDC got medical and epidemiological science right, but what they didn’t get right was behavioral science, communication and collaboration with other stakeholders,” said Dr. Gounder. “That was a big mistake.”

The data since the announcement appears to Dr. Walensky to have been right: Infections are still falling, even as much of the country is vigorously reopening. And as promised, the agency has started issuing more practical masking tips for environments like summer camps (mostly no) and public transportation (yes).

Dr. Walensky and the CDC declined to comment on how to deal with the mask recommendations. But dr. Fauci said he believed that some small missteps were inevitable, and that Dr. Walensky was a quick study.