- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 5, 2020

Food and Drug Commissioner Stephen Hahn refused Sunday to referee President Trump’s claim that 99% of COVID-19 cases are “totally harmless,” a notion belied by administration scientists who estimate that only a quarter of infected persons never show symptoms.

Global authorities say one in five patients require special treatment for the disease, which has killed about 130,000 people in the U.S.

“I’m not going to get into who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s a serious problem that we have, we’ve seen the surge in cases,” Dr. Hahn told CNN’s “State of the Union” after being asked to address the claim Mr. Trump made on the White House South Lawn late Saturday.

Dr. Hahn also deflected questions about crowd behavior at Mount Rushmore, where Mr. Trump spoke late Friday to a large gathering before a fireworks display at the majestic monument.

Many attendees were not wearing masks, although outdoor gatherings are considered safer than indoor ones.

The commissioner said the crowd followed local and state guidelines.

Dr. Hahn did say that if people flout federal guidelines, then “you are putting yourself and your loved ones at risk.”

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he realized Dr. Hahn is in a tough spot but it makes him “angry” to hear inconsistent messaging from the federal level, as Texas and other Sun Belt states see a surge in cases, hospitalizations and the percentage of tests returning positive.

Mr. Adler said that when residents “start hearing that kind of ambitious message coming out of Washington, there are more and more people who won’t wear masks” or practice social distancing.

The mayor said he’s glad that members of both parties in his state are issuing a clearer call for precautions because his hospitals are “within two weeks” of being overrun with COVID-19 patients.

Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a mask-wearing mandate for most counties.

“I just hope this message hasn’t come too late,” he said.

The mayor said he doesn’t think the governor needs to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, though believes local authorities should be able to exercise shutdown powers.

As states grapple with social behavior, Mr. Trump late Saturday predicted a COVID-19 vaccine would be available “long before the end of the year.”

Yet Dr. Hahn, whose agency is in charge of approving and regulating therapeutics and vaccines, said he couldn’t give a firm timeline.

“I can’t predict when a vaccine will be available,” Dr. Hahn said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Yes, we are seeing unprecedented speed for the development of a vaccine.

The FDA issued a set of guidelines and recommendations to companies developing a vaccine, so they understand federal expectations.

The commissioner said he hopes clinical data on vaccine candidates’ safety and efficacy “are available sooner rather than later, we will make that judgment based upon those data and that science.”

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