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CDC's deputy director, Dr. Anne Schuchat, to retire from agency

After three decades of public service, Schuchat says it's time to "smell some roses."
Dr. Anne Schuchat at a hearing on Capitol Hill on March 3, 2020.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

Dr. Anne Schuchat, a top official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced her retirement Monday.

Another high-profile leader at the CDC, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, announced her resignation 10 days ago. It was Messonnier who first bluntly advised Americans in February 2020 to prepare for the coronavirus pandemic. The messaging enraged President Donald Trump, and Messonnier was later moved to a less public role.

Schuchat, the CDC's principal deputy director, is retiring at a time of communication turmoil at the agency. The agency's guidance last week about masking led to confusion and questions about who should wear face coverings and when.

Schuchat, who has been with the agency for 33 years, did not indicate that her departure had anything to do with recent events.

"After a long and fulfilling career in public health, infectious diseases, and epidemiology, it is the time for me to smell some roses," she said in a statement, adding that she is "leaving with the greatest respect and confidence in CDC's leadership and staff."

The CDC's director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said in a statement: "Anne embodies selfless public service, the pinnacle of scientific and intellectual standards, and has given her heart to our agency and the public health community. I will remain forever grateful that our paths crossed, even for just a short while."

Schuchat, who joined the CDC in 1988, has played key roles through many emergencies, including the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak, the Ebola crisis in 2014 and the 2001 bioterrorist anthrax response.

Other important work did not make major headlines, including the development of guidelines to test pregnant women for group B strep, a common bacterium that can be harmful to newborns if they are exposed during birth.

"That guidance, based on incredibly good public health science, has led to thousands of babies being born in the United States safely," said Dr. Richard Besser, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former acting director of the CDC.

"When it comes to public health," Besser said, "Anne is a national and global treasure."

Another former CDC director, Dr. Tom Frieden, echoed the sentiment.

Schuchat "is widely respected, and rightly so, for her profound dedication, incisive intelligence, and deep knowledge of public health," Frieden, who is currently president of the global public health initiative Resolve to Save Lives, said in a statement to NBC News.

Schuchat's announcement indicated that she hopes her retirement will "allow more time for creative passions."

It is unclear what those intentions are, but Besser noted Schuchat's penchant for creative writing and poetry.

"For every going-away party, she would write a poem, a really funny poem or song, for whoever was leaving," he said. "She has incredible heart and spirit."

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