WASHINGTON — The coronavirus would be reduced to easily extinguished “embers” by the time next fall’s influenza season strikes, President Trump said at Wednesday’s briefing of the White House task force, even as his top health experts continued to offer a decidedly more guarded outlook.
“We will have coronavirus in the fall. I am convinced of that,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top epidemiologist at the National Institutes of Health, at the same briefing some minutes later. Fauci’s blunt style has sometimes annoyed Trump and often thrilled a public hungry for accurate information. He added that preparations made now would likely mitigate the impact of the virus come autumn.
Both men were speaking in the context of comments made the day before by Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to the Washington Post. He told the newspaper that not only was the coronavirus likely to return in the fall, but that its effect would be compounded by the flu.
Both the flu and COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, are afflictions of the respiratory system. The flu is an upper respiratory disease while COVID-19 attacks the lungs.
“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,” Redfield told the Washington Post. He added later that the nation was bound to face “the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time.”
That would put enormous strain on hospitals and possibly lead to widespread shutdowns of the kind that have marked the first months of 2020.
A White House plainly irritated by Redfield took the press to task. On Wednesday afternoon, new White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a Fox News interview that “the mainstream media” had taken Redfield’s comments “out of context.” She argued that he had merely been advising Americans to receive their annual flu vaccinations.
Trump opened Wednesday’s briefing by denouncing the Washington Post. He took issue, in particular, with the “totally inaccurate” and “ridiculous” headline attached to the Redfield interview: “CDC director warns second wave of coronavirus is likely to be even more devastating.” He had previously railed against the article on Twitter, by criticizing CNN’s report on Redfield’s statements to the Post.)
“He was misquoted,” a visibly frustrated Trump said. “Totally misquoted.” He went on to say that Redfield’s “whole purpose in making the statement was to get a flu shot.” And he downplayed the likely seasonal nature of the coronavirus, arguing — in contravention of what most epidemiologists have concluded – that once the virus is defeated, it will be gone for good.
“We may not even have corona coming back,” he said during a particularly tense moment during the briefing.
Redfield, who has not been a significant presence at the coronavirus briefings, took to the podium, explaining the challenges of facing “two respiratory illnesses circulating at the same time.” He added that that combination would make next fall “more difficult” than the current outbreak has been.
Redfield did say that people should “embrace the flu vaccine with confidence.” Widespread immunity against the flu would presumably free up resources to battle the coronavirus all over again, without having to open up a second epidemiological front.
While the issue of how severe that autumn outbreak will be remains a matter of speculation, Redfield appeared to hold firm in the assertions that have been the focus of so much controversy.
“I’m accurately quoted in the Washington Post,” said Redfield, who had earlier shared the article on Twitter to his 182,000 followers.
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