What works in public health? CDC Director Finds Reason for Hope in St. Louis | Coronavirus

What works in public health?  CDC Director Finds Reason for Hope in St. Louis |  Coronavirus

St. Louis resident Chris Jones (left) speaks with Dr. Rochelle Walensky (center), director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as Walensky receives a tour of the CareSTL Health Center on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in St. Louis on Thursday, March 3, 2022. Photo by David Carson, [email protected]

David Carson

ST. LOUIS — The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention got her fill of St. Louis on Thursday in a unique visit to a city that included interviews with medical students, a meeting with the director of the city ​​health, hearings with clinic leaders and a visit to one of these clinics in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

“We at CDC are only as good as our public health partners in the community, and so as I travel, I really want to see what works in public health in the community and what doesn’t, and I want hear and learn,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who became director just as COVID-19 vaccines were rolled out more than a year ago.

When Walensky was invited to speak on the medical campus of her alma mater Washington University as part of an annual guest lecture, she also requested a meeting with Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, chair of the Department of the health of St. Louis.

Davis said she saw an opportunity to not only meet Walensky, but also to use her visit to inspire overworked and burnt-out staff, showcase the city’s success in the fight against COVID-19 and highlight the essential work of federally qualified health centers – community clinics that care for those on Medicaid or without insurance.

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What was originally intended to be an hour-long meeting with Davis turned into a day-long tour of the city’s free testing center for sexually transmitted diseases, new COVID-19 testing sites and the CareSTL Health Center. on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in North St. Louis. Walensky also met with the four leaders of the city’s community clinic systems.

Davis said he discussed ways to strengthen public health staff and improve the city’s large racial disparities in childhood immunization rates — less than 20% of vaccinated children between the ages of 5 and 11 are black.

Davis said Walensky was extremely personable.

“We need days like this,” Davis said. “We need help, but we also need hope.”

CDC Director Walensky Visits St. Louis

Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis (left), director of the St. Louis Department of Health, and Dr. Hari Nallapaneni (right) give Dr. Rochelle Walensky (center), director of the States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention USA, a tour of the CareSTL Health Center on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in St. Louis on Thursday, March 3, 2022. Photo by David Carson, [email protected]

David Carson

Walensky said the 1,400 federally licensed health centers across the country provide care for one in three people living in poverty. Over the past year, these clinics have vaccinated about 20 million people.

“I wanted to know how they were able to do it, some of the challenges they faced, they are going to be so essential for the next chapter of COVID-19 but also the next chapter of equity and health around the country. “

Angela Clabon, executive director of CareSTL Health, said she’s grateful Walensky recognizes the challenges clinics face in caring for the city’s most vulnerable residents during the pandemic.

“It’s an honor to know that our voice will be heard in decision-making,” Clabon said. “We feel appreciated.”

Lesson learned

Walensky began his visit to St. Louis Thursday morning by speaking with medical students and professors from the University of Washington about the challenges facing public health officials as the United States enters a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. She answered questions posed by Dr. William Powderly, co-director of the division of infectious diseases at Washington University School of Medicine.

Walensky earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry from the University of Washington in 1991 before earning a medical degree at Johns Hopkins University. She was invited to speak as a Medoff Visiting Professor this year in the Department of Medicine.

Walensky, 52, said her experience as a medical provider and researcher has made her acutely aware of the challenges in a much larger role as CDC director, a position she has held since January 2021.

“We are providing guidance that must be applicable to New York, the Navajo Nation, and rural Montana and Guam – that is the spectrum of our public health recommendations, and increasingly through this pandemic, people people wanted our public health advice to tell them, “Can I visit Grandma this weekend? said Walensky. “No one is going to CDC advice to say, ‘Can I have the Shake Shack fries today? but that’s what they really want from us right now.

She has experience advising patients as a doctor, but balancing the need for individualized information with the need for far-reaching public health advice “has been a really interesting line to walk”, she said. she stated.

The CDC must base its COVID-19 guidelines on competing risks and benefits, constantly weighing the impact on things like mental illness, addiction and delays in medical care, Walensky said. As the guidelines are rolled out, the agency is seeking input from local authorities and school officials and balancing it with the latest scientific data from its experts.

Sometimes CDC decisions are criticized as yielding to economic interests, such as when the CDC shortened the length of quarantine just when the omicron variant was causing a surge.

Walensky said the country was on course to see a million new cases a day and hospitals might not be able to get the supplies they needed, and “something had to be done.”

“We could be blamed for not making exactly the right decision in the moment, but I don’t want to be blamed for not making a decision because that in itself is a decision,” she said.

CDC Director Walensky Visits St. Louis

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, answers a question during a series of one-on-one meetings with reporters after touring the CareSTL Health Center on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive on Thursday 3rd of March. 2022. Photo by David Carson, [email protected]

David Carson

Looking back on the pandemic, Walensky praised the “extraordinary” effort to deliver 550 million vaccines in one year and the CDC’s increased ability to quickly collect and publish large amounts of data. The CDC now has the ability to review the impact of vaccines on cases and deaths, broken down by vaccine types and age, within four weeks, she said.

What the CDC didn’t do well was communicate what wasn’t yet known about vaccines, she said. Experts haven’t talked enough about how immunity can decrease or how another variant might decrease effectiveness.

“When the vaccine came out, it was 95% effective. A lot of us wanted to say, ‘OK, this is our ticket out.’ Yeah, we’re done.’ So I think maybe we had too little caution and too much optimism for some good things that came our way,” she said. “I think we all wanted this done.”

Going forward, she said the CDC can better explain how the science is nuanced and can change when more is learned. Health advice is based on what is known at the time.

“We’ve always said, ‘We’re going to lead with science.’ That’s absolutely true, but I think the public has heard that because science is infallible, science is black and white. … The truth is that science is gray — and science is not always immediate. And sometimes it takes months or years to find the answer, but you have to make decisions in a pandemic before you have that answer,” she said.

When asked how the university’s medical school and its students can help the CDC, Walensky said they can help ensure the next generation of providers are as diverse as the population, which helps to improve health outcomes for all.

She also urged them to use their voice to promote trust in public health and listen to the needs of the people they care for.

Walensky told students and staff it was their “Super Bowl moment.”

“We’re all tired,” she said, “but that’s what we were called to. This is what we were trained to do. »

Walensky said his visit to St. Louis was nostalgic and uplifting.

“We were talking about equity in action today,” she said, “and I absolutely saw that, and it was really inspiring.”

Originally published at 12:45 p.m. Thursday March 3. Updated at 7:50 p.m.(tncms-asset)461c5180-9a89-11ec-bcd1-00163ec2aa77[4](/tncms-asset)(tncms-asset)e984d4c2-95ee-11ec-a679-00163ec2aa77[5](/tncms-asset)(tncms-asset)c6fd4e18-9033-11ec-acb9-00163ec2aa77[6](/tncms-asset)(tncms-asset)d7b91e24-9053-11ec-9c17-00163ec2aa77[7](/tncms-asset)(tncms-asset)6c58a058-8f88-11ec-948e-00163ec2aa77[8](/tncms-asset)

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