I’ve been watching the mix of very worrisome mishandling of the Coronavirus by the White House along with more positive developments from within the federal infectious disease bureaucracy. To be clear, in this case I’m talking mainly about things the President and his White House advisors have said – misinformation, happy talk, etc. I’m not talking about ways they may have concretely messed things up in the field. That is much less clear. On the CDC front, I’m not talking about “good news” in terms of the outbreak but rather signs that actual experts seem to be doing or saying the right things regardless of President Trump’s nonsense.
On that, we have President Trump apparently sidelining HHS Secretary Alex Azar in favor of Vice President Pence. But then today we hear that the two men have agreed to make Dr. Deborah Birx the White House “Coordinator” of the effort. She seems to be a well-regarded professional. Then a short time later we learned that Steven Mnuchin and Larry Kudlow have been added to the task force. Given Kudlow’s role to date, which has included numerous misstatements of what is happening and an apparently exclusive focus on trying to talk up the stock market, that is pretty troubling.
But just now we’ve gotten reports of something really worrisome. If you’ve been around for a few days watching the news you certainly know of Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He’s been at NIH since 1968 and heading NIAID since 1984. Back in the early years of the AIDS epidemic he was often the guy in terms of getting real, factual information from the federal government. He’s someone who commands immense respect within the field and has a great record of explaining things to the public in a way that is candid, factual and useful.
Now we learn that the White House has apparently instructed Fauci not to speak publicly without prior sign-off from the White House about what he will say. And the person in charge of screening information, the one in charge of what federal officials say and don’t say, is Mike Pence. In a normal administration, some effort to coordinate message and make sure everyone is speaking consistently and clearly would likely make sense. But given what we have seen from the President and the White House so far it seems like a bad sign.