‘Fanatic?’: Biden’s New CDC Director Was Strong Proponent of Pandemic Mandates, Masks and Lockdowns
By Michael Nevradakis, Ph.D., The Defender
President Biden’s pick to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a “proven track record protecting Americans’ health and safety,” according to the White House.
The White House cited Dr. Mandy Cohen’s “leadership through the COVID-19 crisis” for drawing “bipartisan praise” and her “ability to find common ground and put complex policy into action.”
But critics of Biden’s appointee who spoke with The Defender took a different view of Cohen’s track record — especially her support for lockdowns and mandates during the pandemic, when she led North Carolina’s pandemic response as head of North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS).
“Cohen appears to be fully entrenched in the ‘bio-pharmaceutical complex,’” Dr. Peter McCullough told The Defender.
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McCullough, author of “The Courage to Face COVID-19: Preventing Hospitalization and Death While Battling the Bio-Pharmaceutical Complex,” said:
“She was on the wrong side of every pandemic public health intervention, failed to recognize early therapeutics and natural immunity, and to date has not acknowledged the safety disaster unfolding with the COVID-19 mass, indiscriminate, vaccination program.”
Alex Berenson, commentator and former New York Times journalist, described Cohen as “a public health COVID authoritarian” and “the worst possible person to become the next CDC head” — which he said proves the Biden administration “has learned all the wrong lessons since 2021.”
And according to Jeffrey A. Tucker, founder and president of the Brownstone Institute, “Going through [Cohen’s] timeline is a strange blast from the past of heartbreaking fear-mongering, pseudo-science, and propaganda. She passed with flying colors all three tests of compliance: closures, masking, and vaccine mandates.”
The New York Post cited videos showing Cohen “gloating about implementing COVID lockdowns, inconsistently following her own mitigation guidelines and forcing public schools to have students masked indoors regardless of vaccination status.”
Cohen will take over the agency in early July. She replaces Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who has led the CDC since January 2021. Walensky, who submitted her resignation in May citing the end of the national COVID-19 emergency, will depart June 30.
Cohen’s appointment did not require a Senate hearing. However, the recently passed omnibus spending bill requires Senate confirmation beginning in January 2025.
According to Politico, “Cohen’s charge is, officially, to restore trust in an agency that its outgoing director, Rochelle Walensky, has acknowledged ‘did not reliably meet expectations’ after COVID arrived. ” Her “official work at CDC will revolve around the agency overhaul that Walensky started.”
Walensky’s handling of the pandemic response, believed by some to be responsible for waning public trust in the agency, was the subject of a contentious hearing before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Walensky congratulated Cohen, describing her as “a respected public health leader who helped North Carolina successfully navigate” COVID-19, and whose “unique experience and accomplished tenure in North Carolina … make her perfectly suited to lead CDC as it moves forward by building on the lessons learned from COVID-19 to create an organization poised to meet public health challenges of the future.”
Cohen comes in as the CDC “has shifted from a rarely discussed agency to a kitchen table topic and political lightning rod,” Roll Call wrote. She will face efforts to secure an increased budget and authorities via the fiscal 2024 appropriations legislation and the reauthorization of a 2006 pandemic preparedness law.
Republican lawmakers have opposed an increase in the CDC’s budget or authority.
Walensky’s assertion that Cohen will have to prepare for the next public health emergency raised some eyebrows — as have Cohen’s statements that the CDC didn’t do enough under the Trump administration early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think on the CDC side, they were underprepared, and their execution was lacking,” Cohen said during a talk at Duke University. “And unfortunately, they had a few early missteps that really hurt their credibility long-term.” Cohen said the CDC wasn’t able to effectively communicate with the public.
“Dr. Mandy Cohen during her tenure as North Carolina’s HHS secretary pushed through the most draconian COVID-19 measures imaginable.
“With her at the helm of the CDC, I expect we will just get more lying and hiding regarding the agency’s abysmal response to the pandemic and horrific track record in general.”
Private sector connections to vaccine manufacturers, Gates, Big Tech, WEF
According to the White House, Cohen, an internist, comes to the CDC from the private sector, where she is executive vice president of Aledade and CEO of Aledade Care Solutions — a post she took after her stint leading the NCDHHS.
Aledade “helps independent primary care practices, health centers, and clinics deliver better care to their patients and thrive in value-based care.”
Aledade’s executive leadership and board of directors include people who held positions in federal public health organizations and in Big Tech, and some with connections to the World Economic Forum and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:
CEO Farzad Mostashari previously worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and “served as a distinguished expert at the Brookings Institute’s Engelberg Center for HealthCare Reform.”
President Mat Kendall, Chief Medical Officer Emily Maxson and Chief Performance Officer Ahmed Haque also previously worked for HHS.
Chief Policy Officer Sean Cavanaugh and Senior Vice President for Policy and Economics Travis Broome previously worked for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Chief Product Officer Nick Kinkaid previously worked for companies such as Google, Walmart and Tesla.
Chief Technology Officer Ritwik Tewari previously worked for Meta, “where he oversaw the Artificial Intelligence platform for the company’s multi-billion dollar advertisement platform,” and prior to that, worked for Microsoft.
Chief Financial Officer John Doyle was “a member of the 2012 Class of Henry Crown Fellows at the Aspen Institute.”
Board member Dr. Bob Kocher served in the Obama administration as special assistant to the president for healthcare and economic policy on the National Economic Council, and previously worked for HHS.
Board member Julie Sunderland was director of program-related investments for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “where she was responsible for managing the foundation’s $1.5 billion program-related investment pool which focuses on strategic investments in global health, global development, and U.S. education.”
Board member Phyllis Yale “is a frequent speaker at industry conferences, including several times at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting.”
Board member Michelle Ryan worked for Johnson & Johnson for almost 30 years, most recently as treasurer, until retiring in 2021.
Aledade has been backed by several venture capital firms, including GV, “the venture capital arm of Alphabet, Inc.” (Google), and Biomatics Capital, “a Seattle-based digital health and genomics focused venture capital firm” founded by Sunderland.
Tucker expressed concerns that Cohen’s background means her tenure as CDC director will be marked not by change, but by more of the same.
“She is a faithful member of the lockdown party and thus demonstrates her willingness to do it again should the occasion arise,” he wrote.
Lockdown policies ‘arbitrary and completely disregarding of human rights’
During a May 2022 seminar at Duke University, Cohen was asked about crisis management and how public health officials across different states coordinated with each other in implementing COVID-19 restrictions.
Cohen recalled discussions she had with Massachusetts Health Secretary Marylou Sudders, the person she “called the most” for advice on COVID-19 policy, and made light of the gravity of the decisions she was responsible for.
Cohen also said, “I’d be like, ‘So when are you going to think about lightening up on masks?’ [She’d be like] ‘Next Monday,’ and I’d be like, ‘Okay! Next Monday.’”
Tucker, writing for the Brownstone Institute, said, “If you believed there was ever any science behind any of this, Mandy inadvertently revealed otherwise. They made decisions based on some weird club of lockdowners that gained a feeling of power and control simply by chit-chatting on the phone with each other.”
“It was all arbitrary and completely disregarding of human rights,” Tucker said.
In a June 2021 video, Cohen referenced “definitive data” from the CDC claiming the data showed COVID-19 vaccines prevented infection or transmission of the virus.
Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of health policy at Stanford University and outspoken critic of COVID-19 vaccines and restrictions, responded on Twitter that Cohen should be asked, “how she got the science so consequentially wrong.”
Walensky, when asked during a House hearing to explain similar statements she made about the COVID-19 vaccines, said she stood by her statements, which were “generally accurate.”
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According to Berenson, Cohen also “pushed jab mandates for healthcare workers and explicitly tied loosening restrictions to vaccination levels.”
A July 22, 2021, announcement by Cohen, on behalf of the NCDHHS, applauded the North Carolina Healthcare Association’s public support of COVID-19 vaccine requirements for healthcare employees. “Vaccinations are our way out of the pandemic. Don’t wait to vaccinate,” Cohen stated.
Six days later, the NCDHHS announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for workers at state-run medical facilities, unless they qualified for a medical or religious exemption. By Oct. 12, 2021, 94% of workers were vaccinated, 6% received an exemption, and 16 workers were fired due to not getting the vaccine.
In another 2021 announcement, Cohen tied North Carolina’s COVID-19 restrictions to vaccination levels, stating “We are in a promising place. With North Carolina’s COVID-19 key metrics improving and vaccinations increasing, we can responsibly use our dimmer switch approach to easing restrictions guided by science and data.”
Responsible for ‘some of the longest school closures in the nation’
Cohen also oversaw strict school closures and masking policies for children in North Carolina.
Ramesh Thakur, writing for the Brownstone Institute, described Cohen as “a lockdown, mask, and vaccine fanatic.”
However, Cohen does not appear to have always practiced what she preached. In a June 2020 video, Cohen is seen walking into a room without wearing a mask — only did she wear one on camera.
This did not stop Cohen from requiring schoolchildren to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status, even though North Carolina’s mask mandate had ended.
On July 26, 2021, Cohen tweeted that “Schools with students in K-8th grade should require all children and staff to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Schools with students in 9th-12th grades should ensure that anyone who isn’t fully vaccinated, including students, wear a mask indoors.”
As for lockdowns, Dr. Robert Malone, a critic of COVID-19 vaccine policies and lockdowns, wrote on Substack that North Carolina “had some of the longest school closures in the nation.”
Confirming Malone’s statement, Burbio’s K-12 School Opening Tracker, which examined “K-12 school operations during the 2020/21 and 2021/22 academic years,” lists North Carolina among the bottom half of U.S. states for in-person learning.
According to a July 2020 North Carolina school reopening plan, school districts were required to mandate masks for all students, teachers and staff, impose social distancing and capacity limits in school buildings, require students and school employees to undergo daily temperature checks, and develop quarantine plans for students “with coronavirus symptoms.”
“Besides pushing lockdowns through March 2021, Cohen also threatened legal action against a school district that wanted to drop quarantines and contact tracing — in September 2021, long after COVID’s lack of risk to school-age children became apparent.”
The Charlotte Observer reported on Sept. 29, 2021, that the Union County school board was given an ultimatum by Cohen “to rescind a new policy that eliminates COVID-19 quarantine measures for most students and staff.” Otherwise, in Cohen’s words, “legal action may be required to protect the public’s health.”
On Sept. 13, 2021, the Union County Board of Education voted 8-1 “to do away with contact tracing and most quarantine stipulations,” according to the Charlotte Observer.
“I want to highlight the concern that the action of the Union County Board of Education poses an imminent threat of serious adverse health consequences for students, teachers, staff and the public more broadly,” Cohen wrote to Union County Board of Education Chairperson Melissa Merrell.
28 Republican lawmakers send letter opposing Cohen’s selection
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According to the letter, “Dr. Cohen is unfit for the position. Throughout her career, Dr. Cohen has politicized science, disregarded civil liberties, and spread misinformation about the efficacy and necessity of COVID vaccinations … and the necessity of masks” and “has a history of engaging in partisan left-wing politics.”
“Dr. Cohen was a proponent of unnecessary, unscientific COVID restrictions on school children,” the letter added.
Referencing her threat of legal action against the Union County Board of Education, the letter said, “Dr. Cohen’s willingness to threaten the school district put politics over the well-being of children,” and was “just another example of the litany of public health abuses the American people endured at the hands of bureaucrats throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The letter concluded:
“Given her strong affiliation with the Democrat Party and the COVID-19 lockdowns, it will be difficult for the American people to trust Dr. Cohen to run the CDC as a nonpartisan actor who makes objective decisions rooted in scientific data, and not in political expediency. Therefore, we urge you to reverse course on Dr. Cohen’s reported appointment to the Director of the CDC.”
Politico noted that while Republicans had “no hope of blocking her appointment” in Congress as no Senate confirmation was needed, “Republicans’ opposition, especially if it’s more widely shared in their caucus, could make it harder for Cohen to complete Walensky’s agency reorganization.”
And in a June 2 tweet, North Carolina Treasurer Dale Folwell, a Republican candidate for state governor in 2024, wrote that “the actions of Dr.Mandy Cohen during Covid resulted in more disease, death, poverty and illiteracy. As NC Governor, I would be hard-pressed to ever follow her lead at CDC if chosen by the POTUS.”
No stranger to federal government work
Cohen’s appointment as CDC director is not the first position she’s held with the federal government — she previously was chief operating officer and chief of staff of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and acting director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, where she “was involved in many aspects of the Affordable Care Act policy development and implementation.”
And according to The Washington Post, Cohen also previously worked with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to found Doctors for Obama, which campaigned for Barack Obama in 2008, and “was later rebranded Doctors for America, to advocate for the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature health law.”
A Harvard University announcement notes that Cohen “has also worked at the Department of Veterans Affairs on women’s health, and on HIV issues in South Africa.” She is a graduate of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, which honored her in 2020, and from which six previous CDC directors are alums.
Cohen also holds a degree in medicine from Yale University. After her medical studies, she trained as an internist at Massachusetts General Hospital, where, according to Politico, “her interest in policy was evident.”
The Washington Post reported that “Some CDC staff and alumni bristled … at reports of her planned selection, lamenting that her career had been more focused on managing health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid than on traditional public health.”
Andy Slavitt, former temporary senior adviser to the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response team — who is being sued by Berenson for censorship — described Cohen as “more of an operator and also politically sophisticated.”
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