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CDC Director Rochelle Walensky is stepping down from agency

Walensky took over at the beginning of Biden's term in January 2021 as the administration began to roll out vaccines for Covid-19.
Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Washington, on May 4, 2023.
Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Washington on Thursday.Al Drago / Bloomberg via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who has played a vital role in the administration's pandemic response over the past two years, is leaving as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a job she has held since President Joe Biden came into office in January 2021.

Her departure was confirmed on Friday by the White House in a statement from Biden that said Walensky "has saved lives with her steadfast and unwavering focus on the health of every American."

"As Director of the CDC, she led a complex organization on the frontlines of a once-in-a-generation pandemic with honesty and integrity. She marshalled our finest scientists and public health experts to turn the tide on the urgent crises we’ve faced," Biden said.

The president continued, "Dr. Walensky leaves CDC a stronger institution, better positioned to confront health threats and protect Americans. We have all benefited from her service and dedication to public health, and I wish her the best in her next chapter."

In a separate statement, the CDC said that Walensky would officially leave her role at the end of June.

"Walensky has led CDC through a transition to greater normalcy across the country, after two years of COVID-19 related closures and waves of dangerous, new virus variants," the CDC said.

The World Health Organization said Friday that Covid is no longer a global public health emergency. The WHO issued the declaration more than three years earlier, on Jan. 30, 2020. The U.S. is also planning to let its Covid-19 public health emergency expire on May 11.

Walensky signaled that now is the right time to leave as the nation turns the page on the Covid pandemic.

"The end of the COVID-19 public health emergency marks a tremendous transition for our country, for public health, and in my tenure as CDC Director,” Walensky wrote in a letter to Biden, according to the CDC on Friday. "I took on this role, at your request, with the goal of leaving behind the dark days of the pandemic and moving CDC — and public health — forward into a much better and more trusted place."

The announcement of her departure comes a few days after a 39-year-old CDC employee, Amy St. Pierre, was shot and killed Wednesday in a shooting in midtown Atlanta, where the CDC is located.

It was not immediately clear on Friday who would take over as director at the CDC once she leaves next month. The position does not require Senate confirmation.

In her role, Walensky oversaw the Biden administration's efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic including the rollout of vaccines to the general public. In August 2022, she outlined changes for the agency to respond better and faster to public health emergencies — following missteps during the pandemic — which included an overhaul in how the agency analyzes and shares data.

She acknowledged at the time that the CDC failed to meet the public's expectations in its response to Covid as the virus spread throughout the country, which first happened under the Trump administration. The agency was widely criticized, for example, over its slow responses and often confusing messaging on masking and other mitigation measures.

“There are going to be headlines that praise you and headlines that slam you,” Walensky told NBC News in October. “It was going to be hard for the agency however it shook out. I can tell you numerous times where I’ve had these big decisions... many nights I’ve lost sleep.” 

Before joining the administration, Walensky was the chief of the division of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she was on the front lines of the pandemic. She also was a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.