Biden’s New CDC Pick: A Masking Fundamentalist

Joe Biden’s intention to nominate Mandy Cohen, former North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary, as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is drawing concern nationwide. This choice emphasizes symbolism over science, posing a serious question about the direction the CDC will take under her leadership.

One detail that stands out in Cohen’s public persona is a photo she posted in August 2020, donning a mask embellished with the likeness of Dr. Anthony Fauci, then-Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Accompanying the image, she stressed the importance of masking as a protective measure against COVID-19, adding a whimsical touch to her advocacy with the comment that masks “can be fun too.”

However, this mask-favoring sentiment is not viewed as ‘fun’ by many Americans who have been wrestling with confusing and changing mask guidelines, especially those affecting children in schools. Moreover, Cohen’s record of pushing aggressive COVID-19 restrictions, including universal indoor masking for students regardless of vaccination status, raises eyebrows. As her promotion of masking kids contradicts data suggesting low COVID-19 risk among children, it leaves us questioning the effectiveness of such measures.

If Cohen’s fondness for Fauci-style protocols translates into her leadership style at the CDC, we can expect continued advocacy for stringent COVID-19 restrictions, seemingly ignoring the lack of evidence supporting their efficacy. A key concern here is that such an approach may further erode public trust in the CDC, already dwindling according to an NBC News poll last year, showing that just 44% of Americans trusted the CDC, down from 69% at the coronavirus outbreak.

Adding to the skepticism surrounding her nomination, Cohen’s past boasts of imposing COVID-19 lockdowns also emerge as a point of contention. Yet, during a pandemic that has significantly disrupted lives and livelihoods, these public expressions seem out of touch with the experiences of many ordinary Americans struggling with such measures’ harsh impacts.

Despite these points of concern, outgoing CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, who has faced her fair share of criticism for missteps during the pandemic, stands by the notion that she’s leaving the CDC as a stronger institution. She commends Biden’s pick, stating that Cohen’s potential to focus on the health of every American will indeed “save lives.”

However, with the ongoing uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and the public’s waning trust in the CDC, it’s crucial that our leaders, like Cohen, prioritize an evidence-based, balanced, and sensitive approach to public health measures.