Because matter: Dr. Cohen will oversee the CDC’s response to public health crises.
The appointment does not require Senate confirmation, which means Dr. Cohen can assume leadership of the CDC as soon as Dr. Walensky steps down. Congress recently passed legislation requiring confirmation of the agency’s director, but the provision won’t go into effect until 2025.
In her own statement on Friday, Dr. Walensky called Dr. Cohen « perfectly suited to lead the CDC as it moves forward building on the lessons learned from Covid-19. »
The Biden administration allowed the federal Covid public health emergency declaration to lapse in May. Dr. Cohen will oversee the CDC’s recently revised efforts to track the coronavirus, including in wastewater. He will also be responsible for a wide variety of public health crises managed at agency centers, including other outbreaks of infectious disease and opioid use.
The CDC has addressed diminishing public trust as the nation recovers from a pandemic in which the agency has botched early efforts to test Americans, allowed political interference in its scientific literature and provided what health experts say is confusing guidance on testing, masking and understanding the spread of the virus.
Dr. Cohen was said to be the top candidate in a sizable list of names administration officials have whittled down in recent weeks. He was the first pick of Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House chief of staff and former Biden administration’s Covid response coordinator, according to a person familiar with the search process.
Background: Dr. Cohen brings experience in the public and private sectors.
Dr. Cohen, an internist and executive at Aledade, a company that supports community health clinics and physicians, served in the Obama administration, including as chief operating officer and chief of personnel for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Dr. Ashish K. Jha, who left the White House this week after leading the Biden administration’s Covid-19 response, said Dr. Cohen has unusually strong public and private sector credentials for a CDC chief.
« One of the things we’ve learned in this pandemic and other public health crises is that an effective response requires a link between public health and the health care delivery system, » he said. « There are only very few people who have deep expertise in both. »
Dr. Cohen also oversaw North Carolina’s Covid-19 response as a policy appointee at a time of divided state government, an experience some public health experts say could result in the complexity of running an Atlanta-based agency at is within the Washington-based Department of Health and Human Services.
« What’s important now with a new CDC director is the ability to work with officials in Washington and around the country, » said Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Before Mr. Biden announced his intention to nominate Dr. Cohen, a group of Republican lawmakers wrote to him opposing his likely selection, citing his support for mask requirements and saying he had « politicised science ».
What’s next: Dr. Cohen will be busy overseeing an agency review.
Dr. Walensky last year began a broad effort to retool what public health experts say is a chronically underfunded agency, a process Dr. Cohen will take on. This includes work to modernize its data systems and improve its communications with the public.