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President Trump brought Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield to the podium on Wednesday to clarify a statement he made saying that a second wave of the coronavirus this winter could actually be worse than the first one.
Redfield, who made his original comment to the Washington Post, said during the daily coronavirus task force briefing that while he was not misquoted by the newspaper he did feel the need to clarify his comment.
“I didn’t say it was going to be worse, I said it would be more difficult,” Redfield said. "The issue I was talking about was that it will be more difficult in that we will have two viruses circulating at one time.”
Redfield said he wanted to urge Americans to get the flu shot next season in order to help minimize the number of flu infections in case of a recurrence of COVID-19.
Trump adamantly argued that the coronavirus would not come back in the fall with the same virulence that has this spring – saying that at most it would be “the embers” of the virus the country will have to deal with when the next flu season begins.
Redfield’s comments to the Washington Post – and the subsequent coverage they received from other news outlets – led Trump to lash out at the media in a tweet early on Wednesday by saying that the CDC director was “totally misquoted” and that Redfield would be issuing a statement of clarification. As of the time of the White House coronavirus task force press briefing, the CDC had not released a statement.
“Redfield was totally misquoted in the media in his statement about the fall season and the virus,” Trump said during the briefing. “He was talking about the flue and coronavirus coming together at the same time.”
The clarification from Redfield is similar to one made by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, earlier this month when he said that lives could have been saved had U.S. officials acted earlier.
Fauci had told CNN: “I mean, obviously, you could the White House logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives. Obviously, no one is going to deny that. But, what goes into those kinds of decisions is complicated."
Summoned to the podium by Trump, Fauci tried to dispel the interpretation that his comments meant "that maybe someone was at fault here,” before going on to defend Trump and say that the president has heeded the advice of public health officials every time they’ve offered suggestions.
The comments created a firestorm of controversy that the president was planning on firing Fauci, which reached a fever pitch once Trump retweeted a message that included the hashtag "#FireFauci.
While Trump tried to downplay Redfield’s comments, he continued to want Americans to continue practice social distancing in order to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. The president, however, continued to nudge states toward reopening certain businesses in the wake of the financial chaos that has enveloped the economy during the pandemic.
Trump last week announced the White House’s plan for eventually rolling back social distancing measures and reopening the country’s economy in several phases.
The plan, which Trump announced along with the formation of a bipartisan council of lawmakers from both chambers of Congress, outlines “recommendations” for governors to develop their own plans to reopen. It also includes a number of criteria that must be met in terms of numbers of infections and hospitalizations before they can open up.
Also during the press conference, the president did say he warned Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp against reopening his state and asked people in the state to “wait just a little bit longer.”
Georgia is struggling to increase testing for new coronavirus infections and boost tracking of those in contact with infected people.
Without those capabilities, experts said Georgia risks a quick rebound of the COVID-19 illness as Kemp allows some businesses to reopen in the coming days. The Republican governor's decision has been questioned because the state has yet to show continuing progress in those areas, and it could be difficult to catch up.
“The virus moves faster than government does,” said Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "So if I had to bet on who would come out of the gate faster, it would be the virus.”
Georgia has ranked in the bottom 10 per capita in testing. After expanding capacity, the number of tests administered in Georgia had plateaued between 3,500 to 4,000 a day. However, on Wednesday, the state reported almost 6,000 tests over 24 hours, with Kemp saying on a conference call with Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler that Georgia was “really ramping up” its capacity.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.