US health leaders address mixed messaging at White House, CDC on pandemic

Coronavirus

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) —There have been conflicting guidelines coming out of the White House and other top health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, throughout the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

“We need the American people to hang in there with us, and our message about what they need to do is very clear. It’s wash your hands, watch your distance, wear your face covering when you can’t watch your distance, out of settings and you can’t do those things, and especially right now,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in an exclusive interview with NewsNation.

NewsNation’s Marni Hughes sat down at the White House complex for an in-depth interview with three of the top officials on the front lines of America’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic: Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, Secretary Azar and Surgeon General Jerome Adams.

With less than two weeks until the 2020 election, the pandemic strategy has been one of the key political issues between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

“I will just be very clear, I am the president’s health secretary. I speak for him. And I’m telling you, our strategy is to reduce cases, reduce hospitalizations, reduce mortality,” Azar said.

Hughes asked the three in their first interview together, to focus on the science, and not the politics, to get to the question many Americans want to know: What is going on and who are we supposed to listen to?

Watch the full interview in the player above.

Marni Hughes: We are getting mixed messages and I would like to leave the politics out of this because I want to hear from each of you on the science, on your medical backgrounds and your experience. With that said, the president has said the virus is going away. We recently have seen back and forth between the president and your colleague Dr. Fauci in the news. Dr. Atlas has also spoken — he is a member of the task force — about conflicting signals about wearing masks. The CDC guidelines have also changed in recent weeks. At the end of the day, the American people just want to know what is going on and who are we supposed to listen to?

Secretary Alex Azar: Our strategy is clear, which is we want to reduce the number of cases, we want to reduce the number of hospitalizations and we want to reduce the number of fatalities that result from coronavirus because we, as the Surgeon General said, are weeks to months away from monoclonal antibodies allow us to treat and prevent the disease, as well as vaccines will enable us to, as the president said, move beyond COVID, eventually, and we need to bridge to that. We need the American people to hang in there with us, and our message about what they need to do is very clear. It’s wash your hands, watch your distance, wear your face covering when you can’t watch your distance, out of settings and you can’t do those things, and especially right now.

Dr. Deborah Birx: So when you have a spectrum of disease from no symptoms to fatalities, it’s very hard for the American people to understand that, because we’re used to things looking the same. We’re used to people getting the flu, going to bed, getting chills, feeling terrible. We’re used to that. It’s hard for us to comprehend that more than 50% of the people cannot have any symptoms and others could die from this disease. And so that’s why it’s really important for people to know, as the secretary said, someone in this room right now, could be asymptomatic and positive, not know, and be here because they don’t have symptoms. And so really getting that message out, because I know you… doesn’t mean you don’t have the virus, I think is really critically important, but I understand that’s difficult to understand because it’s always difficult to know that spectrum of disease from no evidence of disease to people succumbing to the exact same virus.

“It’s really important for people to know… someone in this room right now could be asymptomatic and positive, not know, and be here because they don’t have symptoms.”

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR FOR THE WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE

Hughes: And what I’m hearing from you is a unified message which I believe the American people do seek out. However, the question is there have been mixed messages from those in leadership and we want to clarify any confusion, so anything you’d like to add on that to add clarity and add accuracy?

Azar: I will just be very clear, I am the president’s health secretary. I speak for him. And I’m telling you, our strategy is to reduce cases, reduce hospitalizations, reduce mortality. Wash your hands. Watch your distance, wear your face coverings when you can’t watch your distance, and stay out of settings when you can’t do those things. That is the message of this administration and the strategy of this administration for dealing with the coronavirus and that is from noticed from the president, through me.

“Wash your hands. Watch your distance, wear your face coverings when you can’t watch your distance, and stay out of settings when you can’t do those things.”

ALEX AZAR, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
In this handout released by the U.S. Navy, Sailors assigned to the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) treat the first patient from Los Angeles medical facilities March 29. (Photo by U.S. Navy via Getty Images)

Dr. Jerome M. Adams: When I talk to people and they asked me about politics and mixed messages, I really try to help them understand that what many people view as politics and mixed messages comes down to two things. Number one, comes down to this debate between the reopening and mitigation efforts. And I will say to the American people, that’s a false choice, and you need to reject that choice. You need to understand that we can safely reopen. We’ve seen that happen in New York City, where they drove down their productivity rates to under 1% for most of the summer, worst in the world to under 1%. You see that in Arizona, if you want a red state, where they were the worst in the country or among the worst in the country in the summer. Within a few weeks, they drove down their positivity rates, and became a green state. It is a false choice to feel that you have to choose between reopening and mitigation efforts. We don’t want to shut down. But the way you stay open is by following the three W’s: washing your hands, wearing a mask and watching your distance. Also, when people talk about politics and mixed messages, I think that they are hearing this tension between optimism about how far we’ve come, but also pessimism or realism about the challenges that lie ahead. That again is a false, false choice. We need to understand we’ve come incredibly far. Mortality rates are much lower than what they were. We have better drugs, we have over 114 million tests that have been done in this country. We’ve put testing in communities of color, in vulnerable communities. Seventy percent of our federally sponsored community-based testing sites are in communities of color. CDC now collects data democratically based on race and ethnicity, that they’ve never done before. We’ve made a lot of progress and people need to understand that, but we also need to be realistic about the challenges that lie ahead as we go into the winter and we need to stay the course because we are almost there.

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