Trump's health experts sharply break with the president's claims about COVID-19

Trump's health experts sharply break with the president's claims about COVID-19
CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield visited the NIH on June 12, 2018. In this image Dr. Redfield visits the Vaccine Research Center and learns about universal flu vaccine development. Dr. Anthony Fauci (r), Director of NIAID, accompanied the visit. Credit: National Institutes of Health

Two of President Donald Trump's top officials in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic broke sharply with his stated views in separate interviews on Tuesday.


Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, came out against the calls from Trump and others for protests against governors who have imposed stringent measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Last week, Trump cheered on these relatively small protests in a series of tweets targeting Democratic governors:

Speaking with the Washington Post, Redfield dismissed such calls (though it's not clear he was directly asked about Trump's comments):

Asked about the appropriateness of protests against stay-at-home orders and calls on states to be “liberated” from restrictions, Redfield said: “It’s not helpful.”

He, along with members of the White House coronavirus task force, have emphasized the importance of social distancing “and the enormous impact that it’s had on this outbreak in our nation," he said.

Trump has also repeatedly said that he believes the virus is going to just "disappear" or "go away." While he once talked about it disappearing in April, he has backed off these extremely optimistic claims. Nevertheless, he continues to suggest that it won't be long before the presence of the virus fades from public life.

But in his interview with the Post, Redfield was much more foreboding and warned that it could come back worse than ever:

“There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in an interview with The Washington Post. “And when I’ve said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they don’t understand what I mean.”

“We’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time,” he said.

Having two simultaneous respiratory outbreaks would put unimaginable strain on the health-care system, he said. The first wave of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has already killed more than 42,000 people across the country. It has overwhelmed hospitals and revealed gaping shortages in test kits, ventilators and protective equipment for health-care workers.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the most prominent health official in the coronavirus response effort, also undermined the president on Tuesday. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which Fauci leads, released guidelines saying that there is no proven drug to treat COVID-19.

This undermines Trump's pushing of the drug hydroxychloroquine. He had previously tweeted:

Trump also said of the drug: "It's been around for a long time, so we know if things don't go as planned, it's not going to kill anybody." However, this is wrong; the CDC recognizes that the drug is potentially fatal, and a new (still unreviewed) study found that patients who received the drug for COVID-19 were actually more likely to die. This shouldn't be taken as the final word, though, because the story did not have a control group, but it is a sign for caution about the drug.

“What do you have to lose? What do you have to lose?” Trump said of the drug during a press briefing on April 4. “Take it.”

In addition to the institute's guidelines, Fauci himself threw cold water on the president's hype in an interview with the New York Times:

In a separate interview before the guidelines were released, Dr. Fauci said there were many clinical trials underway. “Right now, it is premature to say if something is going to be a home run or not,” he said. “Right now there are no early indications of a home run anywhere. There’s nothing that has been dramatic at all.”

The Times also noted:

...the expert panel did specifically advise against several treatments unless they were given in clinical trials. One was the combination of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine plus the antibiotic azithromycin, which Mr. Trump has repeatedly promoted despite the lack of evidence that they work.

Those drugs should be used only in clinical trials “because of the potential for toxicities,” the experts said.

The panel also had cautionary advice about hydroxychloroquine and the closely related drug chloroquine, even when given without azithromycin, saying that patients receiving them should be monitored for adverse effects, particularly an abnormality in heart rhythm called prolonged QTc interval.

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