Covid-19 Live Updates: Trump Takes Aim at C.D.C. Chief’s Comments on Masks and Vaccines

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Trump contradicts the C.D.C. chief’s testimony on masks and vaccines.

transcript

‘They Are Our Best Defense’: Redfield Renews Call to Wear Masks

Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told senators that if all Americans wore masks, the coronavirus could be controlled in six to 12 weeks.

Today, and even after we have a vaccine, C.D.C. encourages all Americans to embrace the powerful tools that we have right now — to wear a mask, particularly when they’re in public, maintain social distancing, routine vigilant handwashing. Be smart about crowds, and stay home when you’re sick. We’re going to continue to give Congress and the nation the best public health advice. We’re not going to let political influence try to modulate that. Face mask — these face masks are the most important powerful public health tool we have. And I will continue to appeal for all Americans, all individuals in our country, to embrace these face coverings. I’ve said it, if we did it for six, eight, 10, 12 weeks, we’d bring this pandemic under control. These actually, we have clear scientific evidence they work, and they are our best defense. 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 the Covid vaccine because the immunogenicity may be 70 percent, and if I don’t get an immune response, the vaccine is not going to protect me. This face mask will.

President Trump rebuked the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday, saying that Dr. Robert R. Redfield offered “incorrect information” when he told a Senate panel earlier in the day that a coronavirus vaccine was unlikely to be widely available before the middle of next year.

“I saw the statement — I called him. I said, ‘What did you mean by that?’” Mr. Trump told reporters during a news briefing at the White House. “And I think he just made a mistake.”

The president also said that Dr. Redfield was wrong to say that a mask is more effective than a vaccine.

“The mask is not as important as the vaccine,” the president asserted, adding: “The mask, perhaps, helps.

“When I called up Robert today, I said, ‘What’s with the mask?’” Mr. Trump said. “He said, ‘I think I answered that question incorrectly.’ I think maybe he had misunderstood it,” he added.

Dr. Redfield had told senators that even if a vaccine were available now, vaccinating enough Americans for widespread immunity could take six to nine months. He estimated that one could be available for limited use by the end of the year, and for wider distribution by the middle of 2021, echoing a timeline that other top health officials, including Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, had used in recent weeks.

During the hearing, Dr. Redfield also said that masks are “the most important, powerful public health tool we have” in fighting the pandemic.

He said universal mask use could bring the pandemic under control in a few months and said, “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.” (Vaccines are not 100 percent effective, whereas masks, worn properly, do what they are designed to do.)

But Mr. Trump asserted several times that his C.D.C. chief was wrong. “I got the impression that he didn’t realize he said what he might have said,” the president said. Asked whether he still had “confidence” in Dr. Redfield, Mr. Trump said, “I do.”

The president has repeatedly claimed that a vaccine could be available before Election Day, a timeline that most health experts say is unrealistic, prompting concerns that the Food and Drug Administration might give emergency authorization to a vaccine before it has been fully vetted for safety and effectiveness. Nine pharmaceutical companies have pledged to “stand with science” and not push through any product that didn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny. The F.D.A. chief Stephen Hahn said last week that the agency would be issuing new guidelines for emergency authorization of vaccines “in the near future.”

“We’re ready to go as soon as the vaccine happens,” Mr. Trump said. Asked how long he thought it might be before every American could be vaccinated, he replied, “I think it will be very soon.”

Mr. Trump said at a town-hall-style event on Tuesday night that a vaccine could be ready within “three weeks, four weeks.”

Caputo will take a leave of absence from health department.

Michael R. Caputo, the embattled top spokesman of the cabinet department overseeing the coronavirus response, will take a leave of absence “to focus on his health and the well-being of his family,” the Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday.

Mr. Caputo’s science adviser, Dr. Paul Alexander, will be leaving the department.

The announcement came after a bizarre and inflammatory outburst on Facebook on Sept. 13 and disclosures that he and his team had tried to water down official reports of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention about the pandemic.

Mr. Caputo, a longtime Trump loyalist and the health department’s assistant secretary of public affairs, had apologized for his Facebook presentation to his staff and to Alex M. Azar II, the department’s leader, after his comments became public.

Since he was installed at the department in April by the White House, Mr. Caputo, a media-savvy former Trump campaign aide, has aggressively worked to develop a media strategy for dealing with the pandemic. But critics, including some in the administration, complained that he was promoting the president’s political interests over public health.

His Facebook talk, which was shared with The New York Times, was filled with ominous predictions of left-wing “hit squads” plotting armed insurrection after the election and attacks on C.D.C. scientists, who he said had formed a “resistance unit” determined to undercut Mr. Trump’s chances of re-election. He accused the scientists of “rotten science” and said they “haven’t gotten out of their sweatpants” except to plot against the president at coffee shops.

Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the C.D.C., told a Senate panel Wednesday morning that he was “deeply saddened” by Mr. Caputo’s comments and said his remarks about government scientists committing “sedition” were “false accusations” offensive to career officials at his agency.

“C.D.C. is made up of thousands of dedicated men and women, highly competent,” he said. “It is the premier public health agency in the world.”

Mr. Caputo and a colleague pushed the C.D.C. to delay and edit closely-guarded and apolitical C.D.C. health bulletins, called Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, in an effort to paint the administration’s pandemic response in a more positive light.

Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the health panel, said at the hearing that it was “dangerous and unprecedented that political appointees are editing, censoring and ultimately undermining a report that is intended to give families, public health pros, researchers and health care providers what they need: the truth.”

Dr. Redfield pledged that “at no time has the scientific integrity of the M.M.W.R. been compromised.”

“We’re not going to let political influence try to modulate that,” he said. “The scientific integrity of the M.M.W.R. has not been compromised and will not be compromised on my watch.”

Dr. Redfield also told senators that he was ordered by the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services to transfer $300 million from his budget for a public relations campaign to bolster American morale — a campaign that Mr. Caputo said he was tasked with overseeing.

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