President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he disagreed with Georgia’s decision to restart its economy while seeking to tamp down a pair of budding controversies on how his administration is handling the coronavirus pandemic.
Georgia is the first state in the country to significantly loosen restrictions, though many remain in place and some cities such as Atlanta remain on lockdown. Trump said he told Gov. Brian Kemp in a phone call that he thought it was too early to ease stay-at-home orders and let some businesses reopen.
“Do I agree with him, no, but I respect his decision,” Trump said.
Asked about Georgia, Dr. Anthony Fauci said he would caution the state to move more slowly. It was Fauci’s first appearance at a briefing this week.
The director of the CDC, meanwhile, said he did not mean to suggest in prior comments to the Washington Post that the coronavirus is likely to reemerge as an even deadlier threat in the winter.
Robert Redfield said he meant to say that the coronavirus and the flu would be a deadly combination if they are circulating at the same time. He urged all Americans to get flu shots in the fall to help mitigate the danger.
In the Post interview, Redfield said: “There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through. And when I’ve said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they don’t understand what I mean. We’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time.”
The comments to the Post appeared to irritate the president, who said he spoke at length with Redfield and brought him to the daily briefing to clarify his remarks. Redfield has not been a frequent participant.
Trump, for his part, insisted his administration would not let COVID-19 re-emerge in the fall more deadlier than ever. Skeptical reporters peppered the president and Redfield with questions before Trump cut them off.
Later in the briefing, Fauci acknowledged the flu season could complicate efforts to keep COVID-19 under control, but he said “we will be much, much better prepared to do the containment” in the fall.
In another budding controversy, Trump said he never heard of a doctor who was removed from his post as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority and shuffled off to another position with less influence. The agency, known as BARDA and housed within the U.S. Health Department, is on the frontlines of vaccine development to treat deadly diseases.
Dr. Rick Bright claimed he was pushed out for political reasons because he opposed funding to study chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, a pair of old malaria drugs touted by Trump as a potential life saver. So far the little research that has been done has been inconclusive, with one limited study indicating they were not effective.
“I don’t know who he is,” Trump said. “Guy says he was pushed out of a job. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t.”
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Bright also accused members of the Trump administration of pressuring them to “fund companies with political connnections” and asked for the an independent inquiry into his removal. He did not name any companies.