The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday defended the scientific integrity of his agency and said that masks might be even more protective against the coronavirus than a vaccine.
Dr. Robert Redfield said face coverings are “the most important public health tool” the country has in its fight against COVID-19, even as President Trump shows tepid support for their use.
“I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine,” Dr. Redfield told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
He said the eventual vaccine might only provide 70% protection, or “immunogenicity,” but there is ample scientific evidence that masks will offer protection.
Dr. Redfield and other administration officials defended masks one day after Mr. Trump offered a conflicted view during an ABC News town hall, saying some people say masks are good but others doubt them, including “waiters.”
“So the mask is over, and they’re touching it, and then they’re touching the plate. That can’t be good,” he said.
Mr. Trump has criticized reporters for asking him questions while wearing masks, saying their voices are muffled, and is holding campaign events in which many supporters aren’t wearing face coverings despite his administration’s push for widespread use.
Also Wednesday, Dr. Redfield addressed reports that political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services weighed in on Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports to make sure they fit the president’s narratives on the coronavirus.
“At no time has the scientific integrity of the MMWR been compromised and I will say that under my watch it will not be compromised,” Dr. Redfield told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
He also defended his employees against comments from a top HHS aide, Michael Caputo, who used a Facebook Live video over the weekend to complain of a resistance unit within the CDC.
“Not only is it not true, it deeply saddened me when I read those comments,” Dr. Redfield said.
Mr. Caputo reportedly apologized to fellow staff and is considering medical leave.
The instances are fueling concern about political influence amid a once-in-a-century COVID-19 pandemic.
Referring to the virus, Mr. Trump told author Bob Woodward in March that he liked “to always play it down. I still like playing it down.”
Mr. Trump, attempting to explain the comments revealed by Mr. Woodward last week, said he didn’t want to create panic early on.
Dr. Redfield told lawmakers that he played no part in that calculus.
“No one advised the president to downplay this crisis,” he said.
Adm. Brett Giroir, the coronavirus testing czar, assured lawmakers that he’s worked to expand testing and that no one’s told him to slow it down, as Mr. Trump ties the high number of U.S. cases to the extent of testing the country performs.