WASHINGTON – A multi-state coronavirus surge in the countdown to Election Day has exposed a clear split between President Donald Trump’s bullish embrace of a return to normalcy and urgent public warnings from the government’s top health officials.
It's the opposite of what usually happens in a public health crisis, because political leaders tend to repeat and amplify the recommendations of their health experts, not short-circuit them. “It's extremely unusual for there to be simultaneous contrary messaging,” said John Auerbach, who heads the nonpartisan Trust for America's Health.
The Republican president and the health officials appear to be moving farther apart since White House chief of staff Mark Meadows declared last Sunday “we’re not going to control the pandemic.”
Since then, Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Adm. Brett Giroir has done a round of interviews warning that the country's situation is “tenuous” but that Americans can indeed control the virus by practicing what he calls the “3W's” — watching your distance from others, wearing a mask and frequently washing your hands.
White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Deborah Birx, touring the states to raise prevention awareness, lamented in Bismarck, North Dakota, that she hadn't seen such disdain for mask wearing elsewhere. "We find that deeply unfortunate because you don’t know who’s infected and you don’t know if you’re infected yourself,” she told reporters. The state's positive test rate is 11%, above the level indicating widespread transmission.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar, for his part, has a profile photo of himself masked up on his Twitter account.
But Trump continues to ridicule masks and mask-wearing as he insists the U.S. has turned the corner on the virus. At a reelection rally Wednesday in Bullhead City, Arizona, the president painted a sardonic word picture of left-coast Californians trying to eat through their masks.
“How about California ... where you are supposed to eat with the mask (and) can’t take it off?” Trump said. “You see people and, boy, you know when you have spaghetti and meat sauce ... you walk out it looks like you got into a fight.”