Does the President Ever Talk to His CDC Director?

President Trump and CDC Director Robert Redfield answer questions during a White House press briefing in Washington, D.C., April 22, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In today’s Morning Jolt, I noted this exchange between Donald Trump and George Stephanopolous at a town-hall meeting event last night, about the effectiveness of wearing masks to prevent the spread of the virus.

TRUMP: Well no, but he didn’t do it. I mean, he never did it. Now there is by the way, a lot of people don’t want to wear masks. There are a lot of people think that masks are not good. And there are a lot of people that as an example you have . . .

STEPHANOPOULOS: Who are those people?

TRUMP: I’ll tell you who those people are — waiters. They come over and they serve you, and they have a mask. And I saw it the other day where they were serving me, and they’re playing with the mask. . . . I’m not blaming them. . . .  I’m just saying what happens. They’re playing with the mask, so the mask is over, and they’re touching it, and then they’re touching the plate. That can’t be good. There are a lot of people. If you look at Dr. Fauci’s original statement . . . you look at a lot of people, CDC, you look at a lot of people’s original statement, they said very strongly, George, don’t wear masks. Then all of a sudden they went to wear masks. The concept of a mask is good, but it also does . . . you’re constantly touching it, you’re touching your face, you’re touching plates. There are people that don’t think masks are good.

Testifying before a Senate subcommittee, CDC director Robert Redfield declared today, “These face masks are the most important, powerful public-health tool we have. I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine. . . . We have clear scientific evidence that they work. We haven’t got the acceptance, the personal responsibility that we need for all Americans to embrace this face mask.”

Redfield didn’t waver on the value of masks. He didn’t hedge, hesitate, vacillate, or wobble. He didn’t stutter.

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If President Trump isn’t sure if masks are effective because of what he saw a waiter doing, perhaps he should pick up the phone and call the man whom he nominated to head the CDC back in 2018. The man whose “scientific and clinical background is peerless” in the words of Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar. The man who has been working in clinical research and clinical care of chronic human viral infections and infectious diseases for more than 30 years.

And if, for some reason, Trump does not have faith in the judgment of Robert Redfield when it comes to matters of public health and stopping the spread of a contagious virus, the president should probably replace him.

If you are president of the United States, you don’t have to base your assessment of the effectiveness of masks upon what you see waiters doing. There are buildings full of epidemiologists and virologists and doctors and medical researchers who would be more than happy to answer any questions that the president has. If the president wanted the views of a doctor who didn’t work for the government, the country has dozens of top medical schools and private hospitals with staff that would happily explain, in as much detail as the president likes, why they think wearing masks is the safer choice, and what situations and circumstances should involve people wearing masks and which ones don’t.

Because right now, the director of the CDC is going before Congress and has just declared, with the whole world watching, that masks are “the most important, powerful public-health tool we have” and the president is declaring, “There are people that don’t think masks are good.”

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