May 18, 2021 - Health

Eyebrows raise over another senior CDC departure

Illustration of a trash can with the CDC logo, filled with blue surgical masks.

Shoshana Gordon/Axios

As some public health experts continue to criticize the rollout of the CDC's new mask guidance, a top CDC official announced her retirement yesterday — the second in a month.

Why it matters: Although the agency has taken a decidedly more pro-science approach to the pandemic under the Biden administration than it did under Trump's, the trio of negative headlines suggest lingering turmoil.

Driving the news: Anne Schuchat, the CDC's principal deputy director, will retire this summer, Politico first reported yesterday.

  • Another top official, senior scientist Nancy Messonnier — who came under fire by the Trump administration for her early COVID warnings — said earlier this month she's also leaving the agency.
  • The dust has yet to settle from the CDC's surprise announcement saying vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks in most indoor settings.

Between the lines: Critics of the CDC announcement say it was too much, too soon.

  • “What they ended up saying sounded not like guidance for vaccinated people. It was interpreted by decision-makers ... as the impetus to drop all mask mandates without asking for any kind of proof of vaccination," said Leana Wen, a visiting professor at George Washington's Milken Institute School of Public Health.
  • "The CDC sounds extremely naive when they say this was meant to be individual guidance," she added, pointing to the accelerated removal of mask mandates by states and businesses.

The intrigue: Politico reported Schuchat "clashed with CDC director Rochelle Walensky in recent months." But Schuchat told STAT's Helen Branswell she'd been thinking of retirement for some time and felt she couldn't leave in the thick of the pandemic.

  • "I feel so optimistic about CDC’s future and the nation’s public health system that this is the right time for me to move on," Schuchat said.
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