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If we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I really do think over the next four, six,
eight weeks, we could bring this epidemic under control.

by Rose Maramba


The son of scientists at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Robert Redfield’s choice of career in medical science was practically a given since birth. However, far from seamless, that career is riddled with controversy, especially from the time Trump appointed him to head the CDC in January 2020, as the world trended drastically toward the awful pandemic. The two men seem forever caught in a love-hate rollercoaster. Some observers say POTUS likes his CDC appointee but can’t stand the CDC.

When the CDC puts itself squarely on the side of science, it inevitably creates some friction with the White House Boss. But it – or at least some of its members – isn’t  incapable of pandering unabashedly to the latter’s kind of politics to the point of reversing some of its position, according to many reports. For all that, Redfield seems to have faith in the agency. Emotional in his inaugural speech, he extolled the CDC as “science-based and data-driven, and that’s why [it] has the credibility around the world that it has”.

At the same time, Redfield is a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, aka the President’s Task Force.

CDC Director Robert Redfield, joined by President Trump , along with Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force (not seen in photo), addresses the coronavirus White House press briefing on 8 April 2020.

On 13 February 2020, Redfield said that the “[corona]virus is probably with us beyond this season, beyond this year, and I think eventually the virus will find a foothold and we will get community-based transmission.” This contradicted the statement Trump had been making throughout the month, claiming that the virus was under control.

On 14 July 2020, Redfield predicted that the winter of 2020–2021 was likely to become “one of the most difficult times that we’ve experienced in American public health.” He also said, “If we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I really do think over the next four, six, eight weeks, we could bring this epidemic under control.”

Trump’s response to that wasn’t long in coming. He pointed out that “masks cause problems too.”

Masks are something Trump feels strongly about. He makes no bones about his opposition to a mask law. While he also has said that he “think[s] masks are good,” it would take a month of Sundays for the public to see him wearing a face protection.

Which brings us to the recent clash between Trump and Redfield on the latter’s preference for masks as a better guarantee of protection. Trump seems to think his winning the presidential election hinges, at least partly,  on producing a vaccine before election day (3 November 2020). This is because polls consistently show that he gets a negative vote on his handling of the health crisis.

After Redfield’s testimony before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on 16 September 2020 wherein, apart from proclaiming his belief in the preventive powers of the mask, he said that a vaccine may be available by the end of 2020 but until the second or third quarter of 2021 a return to “regular life” was not likely, Trump told reporters, “I believe he was confused.” Trump had then been reiterating – and more so these days – that the COVID-19 vaccine could be available in weeks (100 million dosages of it) and the general public would have it “immediately”. A vaccine too that isn’t even approved yet.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force Response Coordinator Deborah Birx answers a reporter’s question during the coronavirus briefing on 4 April 2020 in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. By August, she was “pathetic”.

Trump, so far, has actually let Redfield down gently, only calling him “confused”. Dr. Deborah Birx, profiled by the Department of State as a “world-renowned global health official and physician Ambassador”, ended up being described by Trump as “pathetic”.

It happened the day after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said she had no confidence in Birx: “I think the President is spreading disinformation about the virus and she is his appointee.”

NBC observed: “These concerns are not unfounded. As the coronavirus has spread from raging fires in scattered epicenters to a national inferno, Birx has hewed much closer to the White House’s often-problematic pandemic script . . . stay[ing] publicly mum in the face of Trump’s politicized and patently false claims about the contagion, occasionally gushing about his nuanced appreciation for science.”

But a few days after the Pelosi’s scathing remark, Birx, who is the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said in a CNN interview that the corona had become “extraordinarily widespread” in the US, now hitting both rural and urban areas equally unlike earlier this year when only urban centers were getting swept over. Going blunt, she warned: “To everyone who lives in a rural area you are not immune or protected from this virus. This epidemic right now is different, and it is more widespread, and it is both rural and urban.”

And Trump tweeted: So Crazy Nancy Pelosi said horrible things about Dr. Deborah Birx, going after her because she was too positive on the very good job we are doing on combatting the China Virus, including Vaccines & Therapeutics. In order to counter Nancy, Deborah took the bait & hit us. Pathetic! 3:44 PM · Aug 3, 2020

Just the week before the Pelosi-Birx incident, the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released a poll showing less than one-third of Americans supported the White House incumbent’s coronavirus efforts.


Featured image (CDC superimposed with CDC Director Robert Redfield): CDC Center/James Gathany-CDC, PD; Dr. Redfield/CDC, PD
Dr. Redfield at the coronavirus White House press briefing: official White House photo/Shealah Craighead, PD
Dr. Birx, official White House photo (cropped)/Tia Dufour,PD