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'I keep St. Louis close to my heart': CDC Director tours St. Louis, including her alma mater Washington University

"It was so wonderful to be back at home in St. Louis," Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.

ST. LOUIS — A prominent figure in the nation's COVID response was in St. Louis Thursday. 

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the Director of the CDC, visited several facilities, including her old stomping grounds.

Thursday morning, Dr. Walensky began her St. Louis tour at her alma mater, Washington University.

"It was so wonderful to be back at home in St. Louis. I keep St. Louis close to my heart," Dr. Walensky said.

After leaving the medical campus at Washington University, she soon made her way to CareSTL Health

Care STL is one of 1,400 federally qualified health care centers across the country. It helps underserved, underinsured, and uninsured populations. 

Dr. Walensky toured the facility and talked to staff about the biggest challenges they face.

"I’ve heard of worker burnout here, about challenges to reach the populations that have fallen out of care and trying to re-engage with them," she said.

One in three folks living in poverty gain access to healthcare here.

Dr. Walensky highlighted the importance of focusing on health equity and she talks about how Black and brown communities were some of the groups hit the hardest during the pandemic. 

"These are communities that have lack of healthcare to start. Our Black and brown communities have lost three years of life expectancy associated with COVID," she said. 

St. Louis City's Health Department Director, Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, said Dr. Walensky reached out to them to learn more. 

"We really wanted to show her the work of our centers, who are the trusted messengers through this and taken care of the most vulnerable and really, make healthy equity tangible and real," Dr. Davis said. 

Dr. Walensky visit comes as the bi-state shows improving COVID numbers.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force shares hospitalization numbers are getting close to pre-omicron levels.

Dr. Walensky's timing also lined up with St. Louis' mask order rescinding this weekend.

"Our guidance says you can remove your mask. Put them aside, but not too far away. If we need them again, we’ll pick them up again. If people want to wear masks, if they have symptoms... continue to mask," she said. 

Dr. Davis also pointed out the importance of the director's visit. 

"The CDC has been the trusted messenger to give the metrics to plan of the future. Today is a day St. Louis needs to be proud of because we have been instrumental in fighting through this pandemic as the other big cities. We need days like this, we need hope and we need help," she said.

Dr. Davis said this is a way to plant seeds for the future. 

This was also a chance for Dr. Walensky to prompt some inspiration, especially to those who were in the same shoes as she was. 

"To talk to students, to trainees and to inspire the next generation, I hope," Dr. Walensky said.

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