Former North Carolina health official Mandy Cohen appointed to be new CDC director

New director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Mandy Cohen at a briefing.
The White House announced Friday that Mandy Cohen, former secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, will be the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
(Travis Long / Associated Press)

Dr. Mandy Cohen, a former North Carolina official, will be the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the White House announced Friday.

Unlike the last two people to serve as head of the nation’s top public health agency, Cohen has prior experience running a government agency: She was secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services from 2017 until last year. Before that, she held health-related jobs at two federal agencies.

“Dr. Cohen is one of the nation’s top physicians and health leaders with experience leading large and complex organizations, and a proven track record protecting Americans’ health and safety,” President Biden said in a statement.


She succeeds Dr. Rochelle Walensky, 54, who last month announced she was leaving at the end of June. Cohen’s starting date has not been announced. Her appointment does not require Senate confirmation.

Walensky, a former infectious disease expert at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, took over at the CDC in 2021 — about a year after the COVID pandemic began.

Cohen, 44, will take over after some rough years at the CDC, whose 12,000-plus employees are charged with protecting Americans from disease outbreaks and other public health threats.

The Atlanta-based agency had long been seen as a global leader on disease control and a reliable source of health information. But polls showed the public trust eroded, partly as a result of the CDC’s missteps in dealing with COVID-19 and partly due to political attacks and misinformation campaigns.

Infectious disease control may be in CDC’s DNA, but the agency’s capabilities have not evolved to keep up with the faster speed and higher stakes of germs in the modern world.

Aug. 20, 2022

Walensky started a reorganization effort designed to make the agency more nimble and improve its communications.

Cohen was raised on Long Island in New York. Her mom was a nurse practitioner. Cohen has a medical degree from Yale and a master’s in public health from Harvard.


She also has been an advocate. She was a founding member and former executive director of Doctors for America, which pushes to expand health insurance coverage and address issues like racial and ethnic disparities. Another founder was Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general. The group formed in the midst of an effort to organize doctors into political action and support Barack Obama’s candidacy for president.

Cohen started working for the federal government in 2008 at the Department of Veterans Affairs, where she served as deputy director for women’s health services. She later held a series of federal jobs, many of them with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, rising to chief operating officer.

In 2017, she took the health and human services job in North Carolina. A top advisor to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, Cohen was the face of her state’s response to the coronavirus, explaining risks and precautions while wearing a gold chain adorned with a charm of the Hebrew word for “life.”

Coronavirus infections have been found in at least 32 animal species in 39 countries. Some can transmit the virus to humans.

June 9, 2023

Some residents dubbed her the “three W’s lady” for her constant reminders to wear a mask, wash hands frequently and watch their distance from other people. One man even wrote a country-rock ballad praising her with the refrain: “Hang on Mandy, Mandy hang on.”

In 2020, Cohen refused to support President Trump’s demands for a full-capacity Republican convention in Charlotte, N.C., with no mask wearing. Her office later said it would accommodate the GOP by relaxing the state’s 10-person indoor gathering limit, but it remained adamant about masks and social distancing. Trump ultimately moved the main events from Charlotte.

Cohen resigned the state post in late 2021, saying she wanted to spend more time with her family and pursue new opportunities. She then took a leadership post at Aledade Inc., a Maryland-based consulting company.