The crux of the problem, several government officials said, is that the CDC and the Biden administration’s messaging experts are not working together. Who is responsible for this is a matter of debate. The critics of Dr. Walensky say she is not cooperative enough, too often provoking decisions about other federal officials, who then struggle to defend them publicly. Her defenders say she strives to coordinate, but her job is not to build consensus across the administration.
Some suggest the White House has gone too far in its hands-off, let the scientists rule approach, creating a vacuum of leadership and forcing ad-hoc coordination between the various public health agencies. That has been compounded by a health secretary, Xavier Becerra, who receives routine briefings from scientists but does not settle inter-agency disputes over the pandemic response.
dr. Fauci, the government’s best-known spokesperson on the pandemic, has at times clouded the waters further by publicly contradicting the CDC as he did this week or making statements that he later backtracked.
In late December, for example, he said a vaccination requirement for domestic airline passengers should be seriously considered, prompting the White House to ask a series of questions about a policy it was unwilling to recommend. He later said a mandate was unlikely.
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said it was a good thing the CDC changed its guidelines, adding that, for starters, “if they hadn’t changed their recommendations over time, schools probably the whole country closed.”
But even some within Dr. Walensky agree that the CDC’s public statements about the pandemic have repeatedly fallen short, long after experts said the agency should have mastered clear and concise public messages about the worst public health crisis in a century.
The treatment of the isolation directive was a case study of how the public can be confused. And the controversy isn’t over yet: Health experts continued to criticize the CDC’s decision not to recommend a negative test before people with Covid end five-day isolation.