CDC, HHS push wearing masks as lawmakers say President Trump downplays importance

CDC, HHS push wearing masks as lawmakers say President Trump downplays importance

WASHINGTON — A Senate panel questioned several of the nation’s top health officials Wednesday about the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s like we were trying to build a plane while we were flying the plane,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri).

Health officials touted successes made in testing and vaccine development.

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“We are seeing promising results,” said Admiral Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

But Democrats grilled the health exerts about President Trump’s actions, pointing to recent reports that said the President believed the threat of the virus was worse than he said publicly back in February.

“Did anyone at CDC advise the President to downplay this crisis?” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) asked.

“No,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Did you agree with the decision to downplay it?” Murray continued.

“I’m not going to comment on that but no one advised the President to downplay the crisis,” Redfield said.

Democrats also criticized President Trump for often not wearing a mask during public events.

Health officials wouldn’t comment on the President directly, but did stress the importance of masks.

“I might even go so far as to say this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine because the immunogenicity may be 70 percent,” Redfield said.

The Trump administration said efforts to develop a vaccine are still a top priority.

“The President of the United States said we are within weeks of getting a vaccine. Could be three weeks, four weeks. True or false?” asked Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois).

“Sir, it’s possible,” said Dr. Bob Kadlec, HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. “With Operation Warp Speed, we have basically worked to basically do simultaneously the clinical trials as well as the manufacturing of vaccines.”

Health officials said even if a vaccine is ready soon, the doses would be very limited at first and likely would not be widely available to the public until 2021.