WASHINGTON — A top federal epidemiologist who issued an early coronavirus warning is leaving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a potential sign that the agency’s new director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, is beginning to impose her own vision.
An expert on meningitis who also led the response to the anthrax attacks in 2001, Dr. Nancy Messonnier has been head of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases since 2016. She joined the agency in 1995, working at first in its famed Epidemic Intelligence Service.
The exact reasons for Messonnier’s departure were not clear. She was moved off the CDC’s coronavirus task force in late April.
Her resignation came on Friday: “My family and I have determined that now is the best time for me to transition to a new phase of my career,” Messonnier wrote in an email to her colleagues. She will become head of the Skoll Foundation in Northern California.
In response to Yahoo News inquiries about Messonnier’s departure, a CDC spokesperson sent a prepared statement from Walensky. “This morning, I received the resignation of Dr. Nancy Messonnier,” that statement said. “I am truly appreciative of Dr. Messonnier’s service to her nation during her career at CDC. She has made significant contributions to public health and leaves behind a legacy of strong leadership and courage. I wish her the best in her future endeavor.”
Messonnier gained national attention in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, as then-President Donald Trump and others minimized the nature of the threat. “Disruption to everyday life might be severe,” Messonnier said in a prescient warning. People “ought to be preparing for significant disruption to our lives.”
Trump wanted to fire her for issuing the blunt warning, which proved correct. Though she kept her job, she largely disappeared from public view.
Walensky was asked about Messonnier’s departure during a briefing of the White House pandemic response team on Friday, shortly after news of the departure first broke. “Dr. Messonnier has been a true hero,” Walensky said, but declined to offer any details.
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