However, at White House events, during political rallies, and on Twitter, Trump over the past week has downplayed the resurgence of the virus even as his health advisers scramble to contain it. “The reason we show so many cases, compared to other countries that have not done as well as we do, is that our TEST is so much bigger and better,” he wrote on Twitter Thursday morning.
It’s a favorite Trump claim that the White House’s own task force has long since abandoned, rather than acknowledging that the alarming spikes in multi-state cases are directly due to community outreach and praising the decisions of the governors to close the bars and reimpose the restrictions of social distancing.
“What we are experiencing in the southeast and southwest, and frankly we see emerging in some areas of the country, is a very serious public health situation,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said Thursday during a live interview with The Hill. . “We have to take individual responsibility for building the reopening of work, school, and health care systems again. If we don’t, we will see results like this.”
But Azar and the others are treading a delicate line, interspersing urgent appeals for Americans to be cautious and follow public health guidelines in defense of White House efforts to reopen the economy and bring people to classrooms and Offices.
Perhaps that was most evident on Wednesday, when members of the White House task force traveled to the Department of Education for a press conference on the reopening of schools.
Depressed about how the administration planned to ensure the safety of children, Vice President Mike Pence dismissed the risk and told reporters that “children do not appear to be susceptible to serious coronavirus illness.”
Just a few minutes later, Birx noted that there is still uncertainty about how children are affected.
“The lowest proven portion is under 10s,” said Birx. “So we are implementing other ways to get test results from them … and we are really trying to figure this out.”
Birx and Fauci this week have used media appearances to amplify requests to wear masks and blame the revival of the pandemic in GOP-led states like Arizona and Texas for the too-fast and reckless reopening.
“Instead of driving 25 in a 25 mph zone, he hit the gas and started going 65,” Birx said in a Sirius XM radio interview on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield also expressed concern about the increase in cases, but were less willing to address criticism of Trump or attribute the increase in cases to reopening efforts.
And as new cases reach record levels almost daily, bold assurances that the pandemic is under control are overshadowed by calls for personal responsibility and concerns that the nation is at risk of backing down.
“We have to adjust things,” Fauci said in a Wall Street Journal podcast. “This is not inconsequential what is happening. It is having an impact.”
On Thursday, Surgeon General Jerome Adams promoted a Twitter PSA that advises social distancing and the use of masks. “When we can’t be six feet away from others, please, I’m begging you, put on a covered face,” he said on the spot.
Such messages have not reached home with Trump, who, outside of public health experts, he cites as a key impediment to organizing a coherent national response. And those in the administration who are dealing with the resurgence of the pandemic have had little access to the White House megaphone, which Trump has used to promote a decrease in daily deaths from coronavirus despite warnings that the trend could be reversed. soon.
Fauci, for example, has appeared on just six television shows since June 1, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday, and was absent from the task force meeting that day.
Instead, he relied on a series of podcasts and live broadcasts to get his message across, including a Facebook Live conversation with his boss, NIH director Francis Collins, to warn that the United States is “still knee-deep in the first wave “of the pandemic.
The CDC, historically the leading agency responding to public health emergencies, have been largely ignored in public messages and only recently resumed phone meetings twice a month with journalists.
Meanwhile, the The White House coronavirus task force has been holding briefings outside the territory, a departure from the previous one in the pandemic, when Trump often commanded the daily events organized from the White House meeting room.
“It is unusual for the president, the executive branch leader, to take a different stance than the agency that provides the experience and guidance,” said Marcus Plescia, medical director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers. from the CDC. “That is a challenge.”
But the urgency of the moment may be emboldening health officials.
Hahn of the FDA declined to defend Trump’s claim that nearly all coronavirus cases were harmless, saying the task force’s data “shows us this is a serious problem.”
After Trump highlighted early Tuesday the country’s death rate drop, Fauci warned that afternoon during a live press conference with Democratic Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) That “it is a false narrative to console himself lower mortality rate. “
Trump has shown flashes of impatience with experts, at one point this week criticizing Fauci and boasting that he “didn’t listen to my experts” closing trips from China from the start. McEnany declined on Wednesday to say whether the president still trusted his infectious disease expert.
Random and Redfield have taken a more cautious approach, carefully avoiding any criticism of Trump, even as they offer a much more grim portrait of the coming weeks.
“What we want to reiterate, as we reopen schools, is to remember the importance of protecting the vulnerable,” Redfield said Wednesday, even as he endorsed Trump’s calls for full classrooms to arrive in the fall.
External experts say the apparent contradictions underscore how the White House’s political goals take precedence over public health realities.
“The best thing is when the boss backs you up and the public knows what the administration’s position is, and then gets the scientists to give the details,” Benjamin said.
CDC Deputy Principal Director Anne Schuchat attempted to do so late last month, presenting in clear terms the challenge the country still faces.
“There were a lot of illusions across the country that, hey, it’s summer, everything is going to be fine,” Schuchat, a senior CDC official, said in an interview. “We are not even starting to get over this.”
Eleven days later, the interview, a YouTube live stream with the Journal of the American Medical Association, had only received around 30,000 views.