President Donald Trump continued his anti-science crusade on Wednesday evening as he publicly contradicted warnings about the duration of the coronavirus crisis made by his own administration's experts, even as the World Health Organization warns that the highly infectious disease will retain its hold "for a long time" and U.S. health officials say they believe a rebound later in the year could be even harder on the nation.
Speaking at the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing, Trump asserted that the coronavirus "may not come back at all" and claimed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield was "totally misquoted" by the Washington Post in an interview in which he said the coronavirus could "actually be even more difficult" in the fall when the flu season returns.
The president's effort at vindication backfired after he brought Redfield to the podium to clarify the remarks. "I didn't say that this was going to be worse," said Redfield. "I said it was going to be... more difficult and potentially complicated because we'll have flu and coronavirus circulating at the same time."
Despite Trump's interjection, Redfield was further pressed by a reporter at the briefing to clarify his position.
"Yeah," Redfield responded."That's what I was trying to say to you just a minute ago—that the issue that I was talking about, about being more difficult, is that we’re going to have two viruses circulating at the same time."
The Post late Wednesday described the exchange between Redfield and Trump as a "remarkable spectacle," one which "provided another illustration of the president's tenuous relationship with his own administration's scientific and public health experts, where the unofficial message from the Oval Office is an unmistakable warning: Those who challenge the president's erratic and often inaccurate coronavirus views will be punished—or made to atone."
Evidence of that discord continued when Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also countered Trump's claim that the coronavirus would not be around in the fall.
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While Trump claimed at the briefing, "you may not even have corona coming back" later in the year, Fauci later said the opposite: "We will have coronavirus in the fall. I am convinced of that because of the degree of... transmissibility that it has, the global nature."
Fauci also pushed back against Trump's shoulder-shrugging in response to Georgia's Republican Gov. Brian Kemp's decision to reopen some businesses as soon as Friday and more broadly against moves—as Trump has advocated—to quickly reopen the economy.
Trump said Kemp "must do what he thinks is right. I want him to do what he thinks is right, but I disagree with him on what he's doing."
But Fauci said it suggested it was unwise "to just turn the switch on and go. Because there is a danger of a rebound. And I know there's the desire to move ahead quickly—that's a natural, human nature desire—but going ahead and leapfrogging into phases where you should not be. I would advise [Kemp], as a health official and as a physician, not to do that."
Trump has also in recent days boasted the message of anti-lockdown protesters with a series of tweets saying "LIBERATE MINNESOTA!" "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" and LIBERATE VIRGINIA" and a remark at a press briefing calling those protesters "great people."
The latest White House press conference came the same day the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a fresh warning about the likely lengthy duration of the coronavirus crisis.
"Most countries are still in the early stages of their epidemics," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a briefing in Geneva. "Make no mistake: we have a long way to go. This virus will be with us for a long time."