WASHINGTON – No matter how encouraging Andy Slavitt's news is at the government’s coronavirus briefings, he can always count on next-up Dr. Rochelle Walensky to deliver a downbeat.
After the tumultuous briefings of the Trump era — when top doctors would troop to the podium in the White House press room only to be upstaged by spurious pronouncements from Donald Trump himself — the thrice-weekly virtual sessions of 2021 have taken on a more restrained and predictable rhythm.
President Joe Biden stays away. The core players stick to their expertise. Data rules.
If the Trump briefings made for more stirring television, the Biden ones are designed to showcase the science-based side of the crisis, with a tone based more on facts than flourish.
The briefings generally open with Slavitt or Jeff Zients, the top White House official on the pandemic response, delivering an update on Biden’s latest efforts to contain the virus — a can-do if rather monotone message about what steps the administration is taking to protect people and get them vaccinated.
Next up is Walensky, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She brings the numbers.
With blunt clarity, she runs through the latest statistics on new cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the deadly disease that has coursed through the nation for more than a year, killing at least 550,000 in the U.S. Even when the trends are encouraging, she acts as a Greek chorus of one, warning people against letting down their guard.
Never was that more evident than Monday, when Walensky diverted from her script about a recent uptick in hospitalizations and deaths to confess that “right now I’m scared.” Her voice thick with emotion, Walensky said she had a recurring feeling of “impending doom” even though she noted many reasons for hope.