Rochelle Walensky, an infectious diseases expert, promises to provide transparency, accountability, and restored trust at the embattled organisation. Susan Jaffe reports from Washington, DC.
US President-elect Joe Biden's pick to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rochelle Walensky, will take the helm next week, at a pivotal moment: Americans have never needed the CDC more, yet it has been hamstrung by a sceptical Trump administration during a devastating pandemic. The USA has suffered the world's highest COVID-19 death toll, at more than 374 000 and rising. A highly contagious variant of the virus has arrived from the UK, and distribution of long-awaited vaccines has hit roadblocks.
In choosing Walensky, Biden has opted for “one of the most highly regarded people in infectious disease research and practice, who has been at the forefront of important work bridging science and policy”, said Jennifer Kates, director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Biden's choice was praised by many in the medical and science communities, according to news reports, and elicited relief from several admirers on Twitter.
“By the middle of February, we expect half a million deaths in this country,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who President-elect Joe Biden tapped for the position.
“That doesn’t speak to the tens of thousands of people who are living with a yet uncharacterized syndrome after they’ve recovered. And we still haven't yet seen the ramifications of what happened from the holiday travel, from holiday gathering, in terms of high rates of hospitalizations and the deaths thereafter. So, yes, I think we still have some dark weeks ahead,” she added to the statement.
According to data collated by Johns Hopkins University, the United States has in some recent days seen over 4,000 daily deaths from COVID-19. The university has pegged the nation’s death toll at 397,600 as of Jan. 18. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the toll slightly lower, at 394,495.
Biden’s incoming chief of staff Ron Klain also announced on Sunday that he expects the United States to hit 500,000 deaths in just the month of February.
“People who are contracting the virus today will start to get sick next month and will add to the death toll in late February, even March. So, it’s going to take a while to turn this around,” he stated.
“The virus is the virus. What we can do is act to control it. And that means getting these vaccinations moving. It means getting help to state and local governments to help reopen schools safely, to give people the protective gear they need, and to really ramp up testing. We have laid out our plans to do this. That’s what we’re focused on.”
Walensky was speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Klain was speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union.”