Biden is planning to announce Walensky along with a slate of top health officials this week, including Xavier Becerra as secretary of Health and Human Services, Jeff Zients as the Covid-19 coordinator and Vivek Murthy as surgeon general. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a professor at Yale who is an expert on health care inequality, will have a senior role focused on health disparities.
The Biden transition declined to comment on Sunday. Walesnky could not be reached for comment.
In the Biden administration, the CDC will take on a much larger and public role, with plans to revive regular media briefings and give a central role to career officials who have been pushed aside by President Donald Trump. Biden and his advisers have emphasized that they want to prioritize scientists over politics in responding to the pandemic.
On Friday, the CDC recommended for the first time that people wear masks at all times when they’re not home. That guidance echoes Biden’s call for a nationwide mask mandate, which numerous Republican governors have rejected.
The CDC will also play a critical role in managing the distribution of a Covid vaccine, an incredibly complex process that will be one of the largest immunization campaigns in U.S. history.
Health care leaders celebrated Walensky’s appointment after the news broke on Sunday night.
“In selecting @RWalensky, Biden has chosen one of the most respected infectious disease docs in the world,” Jen Kates, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, wrote on Twitter. “She has a long history working on HIV and has, in the past year, become a tour de force in addressing COVID. She’ll take the helm of CDC at perhaps its most critical moment.”
While Covid-19 will be the priority of the administration, the CDC will face a swath of public health challenges in the next year, including the opioid epidemic and HIV.
Adam Cancryn and Alice Miranda Ollstein contributed to this report.