close up hand of doctor put label covid-19 vaccine sticker on vaccination certificate card and passport

As the threat of COVID-19 fades, a key figure in the Biden Administration’s pandemic fight is stepping down.

The CDC on Friday announced that CDC Director Rochelle Walensky would leave her post. Selected by President Joe Biden, she took on the role in January 2021, replacing Robert Redfield, who led the agency’s initial COVID-19 response and was an advisor to Operation Warp Speed, which helped get the first COVID-19 vaccines to nursing home residents. 

The agency has weathered criticism that its performance during the height of the pandemic was disjointed, including slow responses to new COVID-19 data, and confusing and sometimes conflicting COVID-19 public guidance. Walensky in August 2022 announced that she would oversee an agencywide overhaul in order to better disseminate more timely, actionable data.

In a statement addressing her departure, President Biden commended Walensky for saving lives and leaving the CDC “a stronger institution, better positioned to confront health threats.”

“[S]he led a complex organization on the frontlines of a once-in-a-generation pandemic with honesty and integrity. She marshaled our finest scientists and public health experts to turn the tide on the urgent crises we’ve faced,” he said.

Ties her exit to PHE’s end

Walensky, meanwhile, tied her departure to the end of the public health emergency declaration. The May 11 end-date “marks a tremendous transition for our country, for public health and in my tenure as CDC Director,” she said in a statement. “I took on this role … 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.”

New data show that COVID-19 in 2022 dropped from the third to the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, following heart disease, cancer and unintentional injuries, the CDC reported Friday in a mortality update.

Notably for the long-term care sector, the proportion of deaths occurring in hospital systems decreased in 2022, with more deaths occurring in nursing homes, long-term care facilities and decedents’ homes, according to the update.