Walensky is chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School
President-elect Joe Biden has tapped Rochelle Walensky as the next director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a person familiar with the decision, bringing a respected infectious diseases expert to the helm of a critical but demoralized agency that has struggled in its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, will succeed Robert Redfield, who has led the CDC since 2018. The position doesn’t require Senate confirmation.
Dr. Walensky faces a challenging assignment: leading the agency back to the front-line role it traditionally plays in fighting epidemics, and battling a surge in the pandemic that has sent the number of hospitalizations and deaths soaring.
For months, the White House played a hands-on role in shaping the federal government’s public health recommendations, sometimes heavily editing or overruling guidance from the CDC on matters such as social distancing in bars, restaurants and houses of worship. The agency has also suffered from its own mistakes, including errors that led to a delay in the rollout of a critical coronavirus diagnostic test that could have caught infections earlier in the pandemic.
The CDC has become increasingly visible in recent weeks in fighting the surge, by shortening the recommended quarantine period to reduce the burden on individuals and organizations. On Friday, it warned the public to take self-protection measures, such as wearing masks indoors and in some outdoor settings, as the virus has become entrenched in communities.
Like Dr. Redfield and many others leading the federal response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. Walensky draws her expertise from an extensive background in HIV. She is a widely respected policy researcher known for her work showing the cost-effectiveness of HIV testing, care and prevention strategies, and an outspoken advocate for HIV patients. She has served on several federal advisory panels.