Biden taps Dr. Mandy Cohen to lead CDC

President Joe Biden plans to appoint former North Carolina health secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s next director, said three anonymous sources with knowledge of the matter.

According to the sources, who first spoke to the Washington Post, Cohen was congratulated for the selection by Health and Human Services Secretary, Xavier Becerra, this week. Cohen, a longstanding health official and physician who steered her state through the rocky first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, has extensive experience working under both the Obama and Biden administrations. 

The White House has so far declined to comment. The sources, who insisted they remain anonymous to discuss the actions of White House personnel, cautioned that the decision is not finalized. Cohen has also declined requests to comment.

Biden’s pending announcement on the matter is expected later this month.

Cohen would replace outgoing CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who is slated to leave in June. An infectious disease expert who assumed the role in 2021, Walensky has been involved in an agency-wide effort to “rebrand” itself as accountable in the wake of Covid-related criticisms. While Walensky was commended for relying on science to craft policy during the pandemic’s peak, she also came under fire for the CDC’s constant shifting of guidelines and contradictive messaging around masking and vaccines.

A point in Cohen’s favor is that she has substantial experience in government at both the state and federal level, a background Walensky lacks. In 2013, Cohen was appointed by former President Barack Obama as a senior advisor to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and was a central figure in managing provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Later, she served under Governor Roy Cooper as secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services in North Carolina from 2017 to 2021. In that position, Cohen established herself as a familiar voice who maintained the people’s trust despite deep political divides, according to her former colleagues. She also gained recognition on the national stage for creating innovative state programs that benefited low-income demographics.

Numerous health experts on Thursday hailed Cohen’s planned selection, lauding her management experience and ability to translate public health information to the American public.

Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer and president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said, “[Cohen] can take the wonky stuff and make it work on the ground.”

While Cohen’s appointment will not require Senate confirmation, she is likely to endure ongoing scrutiny from Republican-led House committees dedicated to investigating the CDC’s Covid response.


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