Members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force don’t always agree, and Dr Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), doesn’t like comments on the latest addition.
Redfield, who has been a member of the task force since its inception, told a colleague in a September 25 phone call that “everything”, according to Dr Scott Atlas, “is wrong”. Atlas was added to the task force in August and Redfield warned a colleague during the phone conversation, which was overheard by NBC News, that he was misleading President Donald Trump with data on the effectiveness of the masks, the benefits of collective immunity and those at risk.
Atlas contradicted Redfield’s sworn testimony last Wednesday that data shows more than 90% of the U.S. population is still susceptible to the novel coronavirus. Atlas said in a briefing the same day that Redfield “misstated something” and added that the CDC’s state-by-state data “is old.” Atlas also said that immunity to infection is not “only determined by the percentage of people who have antibodies” but also by cross-immunity against other infections.
“So the answer is no, it’s not 90% of people who are susceptible to infection,” Atlas said, adding that people are “supposed to believe science and I tell you science”.
Redfield and Atlas also broke up over the use of masks. The CDC director told a Senate panel on September 16 that wearing a mask was one of the “most powerful tools” Americans currently have.
Redfield told senators on September 23 that it is important to use masks if a vaccine is only 50% effective because it will only give immunity to half the population.
In response, Trump, who called Redfield about his comment that masks might be more effective than a vaccine, said that a mask “maybe helps” and that Redfield had “made a mistake,” position that Atlas supported.
“There is no solid science that shows that you should ensure that all populations wear masks at all times… and this is very much in line with what is posted on the World Organization’s website. health care and this is fully in line with the president’s own policy, “Atlas told CNN on September 18.
News week has contacted Atlas, the CDC and the office of Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the task force, for comment, but did not receive responses in time for publication.
Trump, who is regularly tested for the coronavirus, only started wearing a mask in the summer and has been criticized for not adopting a face cover earlier, in order to set an example. He pushed back on wearing the mask, often citing the early months of the outbreak when experts including Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the public there was a need to wear a mask only if a person was at risk or had symptoms.
Although the president has started wearing masks and his campaign recommends wearing them at his rallies, images of many unmasked people gathered tightly while showing their support for Trump have drawn condemnation.
Atlas told CNN that Trump’s view that people should wear a mask when they cannot socially distance themselves was “exactly right.” He added that the president was not going to control what people did at his rallies, calling it “absurd”.