Has the NYT Picked CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky to Be the Scapegoat?

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

During the Trump presidency, I nicknamed Maggie Haberman from the New York Times “Bat Signal.” It seemed that every day at about 4:30 in the afternoon she would toss out a nugget, usually anonymously sourced. That nugget would then drive the news cycle for the next 24 hours. As it turns out, the New York Times functions to drive the news cycle more generally. Thursday morning, the Gray Lady made it clear CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is in trouble.


It is kind of spectacular, really. The Times appears to be engaging in a wee bit of misogyny to cover for Dr. Anthony Fauci and Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy regarding the new CDC guidance on Covid quarantines. Shortly after Christmas, Walensky announced a shortening of quarantine for asymptomatic individuals to five days with masking for another five. According to the Times’ anonymous sources, she communicated the change to the other top health officials before it was communicated to the public by the CDC.

After the CDC announced the changes, Fauci went on MSNBC with Tiffany Cross to discuss the new guidelines. On December 27, he was supportive of the change in light of the volume of cases. When questioned by Cross, he called the guidelines “a prudent and a good decision, and it’s based on science.” He was similarly supportive on NBC Nightly News the same day, saying the likelihood of transmission after five days was much lower than earlier in the illness.

By January 2, when he appeared on CNN with Dana Bash, Fauci’s tune had changed. He seemed to be caught off guard at the critical nature of Bash’s questions. Bash directly asked Fauci if the CDC based the change on science. He backpedaled and told her he expected the CDC to review the new guidance based on pushback and that he supported required testing after five days to leave quarantine. Since the nation has a severe shortage of testing right now, that position directly opposes the need to get people back to work that he talked about before the New Year’s holiday.


Related: This Is Why Biden Is Wrong to Say We’re in a ‘Pandemic of the Unvaccinated’

However, you would never know there was a Fauci flip-flop reading the Times:

Determined to avoid that [confusion] this time, she [Walensky] briefed other top Biden health officials on her proposal so they would all be on the same page, according to two people familiar with her actions.

It did not work out that way. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, and Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the surgeon general, were concerned that the new guidance did not urge people to get a negative Covid test before ending their isolation. After the new recommendation became public, they both took issue with it on national television, saying they expected the C.D.C. to clarify its advice.

The diminutive architect of the entire pandemic response is now saying he never saw the final draft and was unaware it did not require a test. This assertion is absurd since, on December 29, Walensky made waves by communicating a fact that has been public since at least August of 2020. On the Today show, when she answered criticism about not requiring a test to end quarantine, Walensky said, “The PCR test after infection can be positive for up to 12 weeks.” The CDC actually recommended ending a PCR test-based strategy to end quarantine beginning at least as early as August 16, 2020, noting the potential for a false positive.


Walensky was also very clear about transmission in the interview. “We generally know that most of your transmission potential happens in those one to two days before you have symptoms and in those two to three days after. By the time five days of isolation has occurred, you probably have about 85-90% of all of your transmission potential behind you.” So, Covid really does behave like every other upper respiratory virus. You might wonder how long the CDC has had that data.

Additionally, Walensky’s assessment might be the first intelligent public health decision of the entire pandemic. Public health agencies should have consistently applied the 80/20 rule to their guidelines. They simply cannot deal with every outlier. National, state, and local agencies could then provide high-risk people with the information and tools they need to take additional precautions. Instead of listening to Walensky, the panic merchants in the corporate media who have huffed their own fear-mongering for two years attacked the new guidance. Instead of holding firm to turn the narrative in a new direction, Walensky’s colleagues turned tail and caved.

Related: Protest Against Vax Mandates for Kids Round-Up, Jan. 5, Albany, NY

The rest of the piece cites other times the CDC under Walensky supposedly botched communications. The politics of the situation can explain nearly every single one. The dominance of a new variant caused the reversal of masking recommendations for vaccinated individuals. President Biden declared independence from the virus in July, so mask mandates made little sense. Walensky’s obligation was to communicate the new conditions when Delta became dominant. It was not sloppy communication.


We all remember the stories about emails between the teachers’ unions and senior staff at the CDC regarding school openings. The agency clearly changed the guidance to meet the unions’ demands. This week has been another exercise in adhering to the Biden administration agenda rather than science. The FDA and the CDC bypassed their expert committees on vaccines and approved and recommended booster shots for 12- to 15-year-olds with no data to assess the risk.

Under pressure, the CDC changed the new quarantine guidance to say that if people with Covid have access to testing and want to test, the best approach is to take a rapid antigen test near the end of the five-day isolation period. In a previous interview, Walensky explained why the CDC did not include these tests in the guidelines. It is a view shared by the FDA. The tests are only approved to diagnose an infection, not assess viral load to predict the risk of spreading it. In other words, nobody really knows what a rapid antigen test on day five means. But Dr. Fauci wants one, so it is now available.

If you are going to pick the lesser of three evils, Walensky is the easy winner. She has actually provided guidance that makes sense occasionally. However, the New York Times appears to have selected her as the pandemic scapegoat. The one President Biden can hang his flailing approval numbers on. Meanwhile, Fauci remains untouchable despite being the only consistent presence in the nation’s disastrous pandemic response since January 2020.



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