CDC Director Walensky makes visit to Alaska

Rochelle Walensky visits Alaska for the first time in her role as CDC director
Rochelle Walensky visits Alaska for the first time in her role as CDC director(Georgina Fernandez)
Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 6:34 PM AKDT|Updated: Jun. 6, 2023 at 6:35 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The top director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, made her first trip to Alaska this week as part of her overall mission to gain a better understanding of the status of health infrastructure across the United States.

“It was to understand the unique issues that Alaska has in their public health response, to championing the incredible work that has been done here from the people in public health in Alaska,” Walensky said. “Alaska has been a leader in so many of the areas of public health, and really has really has some unique public health challenges.”

On Tuesday, Walensky toured the Alaska Public Health Laboratory in Anchorage, which state health officials say the lab played a critical role in Alaska’s COVID-19 response.

“If we didn’t have the infrastructure from the Public Health labs, we would have not been able to test for cases of COVID, and really being able to empower individuals, communities, tribal leaders, officials to being able to make the best decisions they could,” Alaska’s chief medical officer Dr. Anne Zink said.

Lab employees shared with Walensky the ongoing studies at their lab, how they had to adjust the building and add additional office space during COVID-19, and the struggles they faced during the pandemic.

“I have heard a lot about faxes being used and hand entering of data. That can all be automated, and investments in our data infrastructure would be critically important to do so,” Walensky said.

Walensky also said she learned more about how community engagement plays a critical role in Alaska.

“So much of what I’ve learned here is the importance of community engagement, and really understanding that rural communities have different needs than our more urban communities — and even different rural communities have different needs,” Walensky said.

Zink said coming to Alaska often helps put the needs of Alaskans into perspective for government officials. Visitors like Walensky get to see how much it cost to live in the state, how long travel takes and the distance from one place to another.

“Having her come here, hearing those stories, hearing those examples, I think will help to make CDC more nimble, be more responsive to the public’s need, and making sure that the data, information and resources they’re putting out works for Alaskans — as well as working for other states across the country,” Zink said.