At an ABC News Town Hall on Tuesday night, President Donald Trump painted a rosy picture of an America ready to reopen after six nightmare months of battling coronavirus. Less than 12 hours later, medical experts from the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human Services warned the United States Senate that our fight against Covid-19 is far from over.
CDC Director Robert Redfield made the stakes clear, telling Senators that only immediate action “could help this nation avert a very difficult fall.” In remarkably candid comments, Redfield painted a picture of a CDC paralyzed by budgetary shortfalls and confusion about how taxpayer money is being spent.
Redfield also tempered Republican optimism that a coronavirus vaccine could be developed and deployed in time to save Trump’s sagging re-election hopes. At best, Redfield told Louisiana Senator John Kennedy, some Americans in high-risk groups might get a vaccine in November or December. “If you’re asking me when it’ll be available to the general American public,” Redfield said, “probably the second quarter or third quarter of 2021.”
In fact, the only certainty Americans saw from our government medical experts came when Redfield and HHS Assistant Secretary Admiral Brett Giroir praised the protective face masks so reviled by Trump and the wingnut “anti-mask” movement.
“We have clear scientific evidence [masks] work,” Redfield said, holding up his own mask for emphasis. “This face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against Covid-19 than when I take a Covid vaccine.”
That’ll come as bad news to Trump, who often floats the idea of a “miracle” vaccine appearing just days before Election Day. And Redfield is right: due to genetic or other biological complications, any Covid-19 vaccine will likely be ineffective for a portion of the population. What’s more, Redfield made clear there’s no certainty a vaccine will last longer than a more traditional flu vaccine (which has to be reissued every year).
Redfield’s remarks came less than a day after Trump stunned many medical experts by using his ABC News town hall to peddle another scientifically bogus, medically dangerous anti-mask rant. We can safely presume that such rants are designed more to stoke the passions of his supporters than to provide useful advice to Americans facing a deadly public health crisis. That’s just fine with him.
The opposite realities presented by Trump and his own government’s medical experts no longer surprise most Americans — a US News & World Report poll released on Tuesday showed more than half of adults no longer trust Trump to tell them the truth about Covid-19 or a possible vaccine. Faced with a pandemic of unprecedented scope and seemingly unending duration, Americans across the country are growing accustomed to the presidential leadership vacuum.
After six months and 200,000 deaths, Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir admitted there are still vast areas of rural America at risk — especially Native American lands, where coronavirus infections occur at nearly four times the rate of white communities. God help us if that passes for “victory” in the Trump leadership handbook.
Just as concerning — and one of the few areas where Senate Democrats and Republicans agreed at Wednesday’s hearing — is the total lack of transparency about how Trump’s HHS and CDC are spending the billions of taxpayer dollars authorized by the CARES Act in March.
Part of that chaos can be explained by Trump’s lazy attitude toward filling critical public health vacancies in his own administration. HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness Robert Kadlec in particular seemed decidedly unprepared for today’s hearing. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, given that Kadlec has been in his current role less than a month. Kadlec’s inability to account for hundreds of millions of dollars in HHS appropriations drew the ire of even Trump-defending Republicans.
“The appropriating committee appropriates… in ways we think appropriate,” Chairman Roy Blunt scolded. “You can’t just ignore that” and reroute money without congressional oversight, he added.
Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran was equally confused. “I can’t determine if there’s any plan to be helpful” to senior living facilities, Moran told Kadlec of HHS’ mushy-footed approach to addressing the pandemic’s high mortality rate among senior citizens in assisted care facilities and rehabilitation centers.
If even Republicans can’t defend what the Trump administration is — or isn’t — doing to protect the country from Covid-19, why should voters trust a single word Trump offers on the coronavirus? For an increasing number of voters in key swing states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Trump’s catastrophic mishandling of Covid-19 has done something incredible: it’s turned them into Joe Biden voters.
CDC Director Redfield made clear that Americans are likely to face another hard year as we await the broad availability of a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine. The United States deserves leadership that cares about transparency and believes in science. If we want Covid-19 to vanish, Donald Trump must vanish too.
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