Biden taps former Obama staffer as new CDC director – with agency’s reputation in tatters after Covid mishandlings
Dr Cohen will assume the position at the end of the month when outgoing CDC chief Rochelle Walensky will step down.
The Obama-era health official is also a trained internal medicine physician who helped run the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) which oversees government-issued healthcare benefits, and aided in the implementation of Obamacare.
Most notably, Dr Cohen spent four years as North Carolina’s health secretary where she speerheaded the state’s pandemic response, a position that gave her the public health bona fides necessary to head up the sprawling federal health agency.
The announcement comes at a frought moment for the CDC and its reputation after a succession of fatal missteps in addressing the pandemic, from manufacturing inaccurate Covid-19 tests to relaying contradictory messages about safety.
Dr Mandy Cohen is a Yale-trained physician with a masters in public health from Harvard University. President Biden has not made a formal announcement yet, which is expected to come later this month when current CDC director Rochelle Walensky steps down
In response to news of the appointment, North Carolina’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said: ‘Mandy Cohen used a steady hand to help my administration lead North Carolina through the pandemic to be among the states with the lowest deaths and job losses per capita.
‘She is a brilliant, talented and battle tested leader who would be a fantastic CDC Director.’
Dr Cohen is a Yale University-educated doctor who also has a masters in public health from Harvard University.
She has close ties to top Biden officials as well. She helped found a grassroots organization in 2008 called Doctors for Obama alongside current Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
The group later broadened its message and rebranded itself as Doctors for America, with a focus on lobbying for and implementing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
She has assumed several government positions under Democratic leadership including at CMS, where she worked her way up to chief of staff and later chief operations officer.
While serving as North Carolina’s health secretary, Dr Cohen headed up the state’s Covid response.
Though she was a strong proponent of masking and social distancing, was not keen on closing schools.
Instead, she made the point that children are largely shielded from severe infection from Covid and would likely be safe in the classroom.
She said in 2020: ‘Schools have not played a significant role in the spreading of COVID 19. ‘
‘Children, particularly younger children, are less likely than adults to be infected with COVID-19. And for children who do become infected with COVID-19, they seem to be less likely to transmit it to others.’
In 2022, she became the executive vice president of Aledade Inc, a network of independent primary healthcare practices.
The formal nomination has not been made yet.
And while her appointment does not have to be confirmed by Congress, Dr Cohen is bound to face scrutiny from frustrated lawmakers, mostly Republicans.
GOP representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington and Morgan Griffith of Virginia said on Wednesday: ‘The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has broken the American people’s trust through its mismanagement of recent responses, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘Restoring public trust will require public discussion of the causes of CDC’s missteps from across the public health sector to inform necessary solutions.’