The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta. .

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President-elect Joe Biden has tapped Dr. Rochelle Walensky as the next director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a person familiar with the decision, bringing a respected infectiou- diseases expert to the helm of a critical but demoralized agency that has struggled in its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, will succeed Robert Redfield, who has led the CDC since 2018. The position doesn’t require Senate confirmation.

Walensky faces a challenging assignment: leading the agency back to the front-line role it traditionally plays in fighting epidemics, and battling a surge in the pandemic that has sent the number of hospitalizations and deaths soaring.

For months, the White House played a hands-on role in shaping the federal government’s public health recommendations, sometimes heavily editing or overruling guidance from the CDC on matters such as social distancing in bars, restaurants and houses of worship. The agency has also suffered from its own mistakes, including errors that led to a delay in the rollout of a critical coronavirus diagnostic test that could have caught infections earlier in the pandemic.

An expanded version of this report appears on

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