CDC Director Robert Redfield said Thursday that he’s “very concerned” the agency’s public health message on the coronavirus isn’t “resonating” with the public as the number of cases continues to rise across the U.S.
Testifying before the House Appropriations Committee, Redfield said he sees “a lot of people” not wearing masks in Washington, D.C., where he works, while many people do wear masks in his hometown of Baltimore. Crowds of people have been seen in recent weeks at protests, over the Memorial Day holiday and, Redfield noted, at the SpaceX launch Saturday.
Huge crowds gathered at Florida’s space coast Wednesday to watch SpaceX’s first attempt at launching astronauts to space.
During the hearing, House Democrats grilled Redfield on President Donald Trump’s push for states to reopen after shutting down as part of social distancing measures meant to curb the spread of the virus.
All 50 states have begun easing quarantine restrictions even though Redfield said “not all states” have met the White House criteria for reopening businesses.
“We will continue to message as well we can,” said Redfield, who’s on the White House coronavirus task force. “We’re going to encourage people that have the ability to require to wear masks when they are in their environment to continue to do that.”
The coronavirus, which emerged about five months ago, has sickened more than 1.8 million people and killed at least 107,175 in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. While cases have slowed in hot spots such as New York state, the U.S. is still seeing roughly 20,000 new Covid-19 cases a day.
When asked by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., if there was any evidence the virus has become less contagious, Redfield simply said, “No.”
The hearing comes as the CDC’s response to the pandemic comes under scrutiny by former officials and infectious disease experts. A New York Times report published Wednesday detailed some of the CDC’s early missteps, including the delay of coronavirus test kits. The CDC declined The New York Times’ requests to interview top CDC officials, the Times said.
The CDC has remained largely quiet on the pandemic. Agency officials haven’t held a coronavirus-related briefing in more than two months. Last month, the agency quietly released detailed guidance for reopening schools, mass transit and nonessential businesses that had been shut down in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S.
Redfield also warned Thursday that protests across the U.S. and other parts of the world over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police could be a “seeding event” for more coronavirus outbreaks.
He said he would like to see people who took part in the protests get tested for the virus in the next few days.
“I do think there is a potential, unfortunately, for this to be a seeding event,” he said. “And the way to minimize that is to have each individual to recognize it is an advantage of them to protect their loved ones, to [say] ‘hey, I was out, I need to go get tested.’”
Public health specialists warn that a slow burn of infection through the summer could lead to a massive resurgence this fall.
Redfield told lawmakers the U.S. is likely to have a “difficult time” during the fall and winter seasons as the coronavirus and flu circulate at the same time.
In April, Redfield first warned about the colder seasons, saying, “we’re going to have to distinguish between which is flu and which is the coronavirus.”