- The US isn’t prepared for the next pandemic, the outgoing CDC director wrote in a New York Times op-ed.
- This is partly because local public health systems are still using outdated, unreliable technology.
- “Some of our public health data systems are reliant on old fax machines,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky wrote.
As she prepares to step down as the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on June 30, Dr. Rochelle Walensky has given the US a grave warning: The nation is not prepared for future public health crises.
“To this day some of our public health data systems are reliant on old fax machines,” Walensky wrote in a guest essay in the New York Times on Tuesday.
These faxes led to significant delays across the nation during the coronavirus pandemic.
Washington state even had to bring 25 members of the National Guard to help with manual data entry from faxes, The Times reported in July 2020. And Austin, Texas, was recording deceptively low coronavirus case counts because of lags caused by fax machines.
Technological failures also caused vital information associated with COVID-19 test results to get lost, causing delays and roadblocks for public health officials while contact-tracing, according to the New York Times.
Walensky also pointed to a nationwide shortage of public health workers — suggesting we may need up to 80,000 more people in the industry — as well as skilled bench scientists to conduct laboratory research.
“I fear the despair from the pandemic is fading too quickly from our memories, perhaps because it is too painful to recall a ravaged nation brought to its knees,” she wrote.
Walensky added: “I want to remind America: The question is not if there will be another public health threat, but when.”
She concluded with a call for support from the public and US lawmakers in improving public health infrastructure.
“It is not enough to support public health when there is an emergency,” Walensky wrote. “The roller coaster influx of resources during a crisis, followed by underfunding after the threat is addressed, exposes a broken system and puts future lives at risk.”
Walensky became the agency’s director in January 2021, after President Joe Biden selected her a month prior. Throughout her tenure, she oversaw testing and vaccine distribution at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Walensky announced that she was stepping down in May, just days before the federal government ended the COVID-19 public emergency declaration, Reuters reported.
Biden intends to appoint Dr. Mandy Cohen as the next CDC director. Cohen previously ran North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services.