Dr. Redfield’s Pearl Harbor…

This blog has purposely avoided any political commentary in favor of focusing the discussion on the scientific and medical aspects of the pandemic. However, I do think it’s important to identify problematic behavior by public figures that has contributed to failures in the pandemic response.

Last week, daily COVID-19 death tolls in the U.S. set new daily records, with over 3,000 deaths each day. What was CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield’s response to this milestone?

Dr. Redfield speaking to the Council of Foreign Relations Thursday December 10th.

On Thursday, December 10, 2020, Dr. Redfield, spoke during an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. Redfield issued a “warning” about the worsening death toll from COVID-19, saying that the nation is “likely to see more deaths from the virus each day than from 9/11 attacks or Pearl Harbor.” He went on to say, “We are in the timeframe now that probably for the next 60 to 90 days we’re going to have more deaths per day than we had at 9/11 (2,900 deaths) or we had at Pearl Harbor (2,400 deaths).” 

He also commented, “The reality is that the vaccine approval this week is not going to really impact any degree for the next 60 days. Once more people become vaccinated, the spread of the virus will likely slow down and gradually reaching herd immunity threshold.” 

These comments were shocking, purposely I presume, and made in Dr. Redfield’s usual monotonic speech pattern, sounding as if he were delivering some type of eulogy. (A video of the comments can be accessed here). He also clearly suggests that these deaths are a fait accompli.

The remarks were typical of Dr. Redfield’s tenure as CDC director and demonstrate his “too little too late” approach. But this statement particularly highlights his leadership failure during this crisis. 

The attacks on 9/11 and at Pearl Harbor were not something that Americans knew about and could have avoided. Deaths from COVID-19 are not something that came out of the blue like the airplanes that attacked Pearl Harbor or the World Trade Center. These analogies are totally inappropriate and ignore the facts of the pandemic’s progression. 

The CDC director is one of the major public health officials in the United States. This individual is a commander of the efforts to protect Americans from health dangers, in particular infectious diseases. He should be aggressively encouraging all Americans to do everything they can to protect themselves from this virus from early on in the pandemic through these important times. More aggressive use of masks and social distancing can reduce the number of these deaths as we bridge to protection from newly approved vaccines. We can change these numbers; we do not have to accept this fate.

The last thing Dr. Redfield should be doing is making it sound as if these deaths are something that we cannot prevent. He should be imploring the American people to take precautions and should have been out in public everywhere doing this for months. This was Dr. Redfield’s primary job, but he has totally failed at it.  

At the end of his remarks, Dr. Redfield did remind Americans to take basic precautions — “mask wearing, avoiding indoor gatherings, washing hands thoroughly and practicing social distancing.” He also provided an obscure reference to “obtaining sufficient amount of rest and nutrition.” 

Given the shocking comments that preceded this warning, I doubt anyone listened. 

Published by jbakerjrblog

Immunologist, former Army MD, former head of allergy and clinical immunology at University of Michigan, vaccine developer and opinionated guy.

11 thoughts on “Dr. Redfield’s Pearl Harbor…

  1. I totally agree with you. In January the CDC and WHO were focused on the “vaping epidemic” and not Covid 19. The WHO was busy tweeting about ecigarettes in January instead of focusing on COVID. It took the CDC months to admit that the reported vaping illnesses came from illegal THC cut with Vitamin E acetate. Because of this, many adults turned back to traditional cigarettes and states started to ban the flavored products. Both organizations should have dropped everything and put all resources into helping keep people safe from the virus. Instead, early on in the pandemic they were spreading false information about a harm reduction product that is actually helping adults quit smoking. This lack of judgement caused loss of life during pandemic from the virus and from people pushed back to smoking. Sorry for the ramble, but the handling of the pandemic from the CDC and WHO has confirmed my feelings of skepticisim of both organizations.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I believe Dr. Redfield is exhausted with the political rendering of policy that he saw expressed
    as the pandemic “ grew” The CDC has been thwarted from the top.. and we have seen no stable leadership by example from the White House… I hope his dire predictions are not borne out.. but We all must recognize that the positive test results on the Rise are creating negative numbers of Covid infection across the USA .


  3. I meant increasing numbers of Covid infections. The comparison to Pearl Harbor and 911
    may be apples to Oranges however I’m struck that some look at the loss of life is a “ Rounding Error” …

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very, very well said, Dr. Baker. The CDC director should indeed be waging an all-out effort to avoid these impending but preventable deaths. He should be shouting “Wear a Mask to Save a Life” from the rooftops. If his boss doesn’t like it, well then, his firing may bring even more attention to the urgent message.
    While I grudgingly admire your efforts to remain apolitical, I am reminded of Dr. Spock — one of my other favorite doctors — who felt it his duty to speak out against all threats to children, politics be damned.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jim your critique of Redfield is spot/on. He is a national disgrace and Biden must fire him. You have been very professional in your restraint and equally so in reaching the end of your tether and articulating his failings. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I could not agree with you more.

      He is typical of the losers who have positions for which they are incapable of managing.

      He should have been gone a long time ago !

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Jim,
    You are, of course, correct about Redfield, but I will go further. From the beginning, he has shown himself as a willing and enabling participant in this fiasco. Recent revelations that he asked for the deletion of an email directing politicization of coronavirus guidance (https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/covid-cdc-director-email/2020/12/10/bc72461a-3af3-11eb-9276-ae0ca72729be_story.html) just confirms something we all knew: that he was more interested in pleasing the president than protecting the public. It’s truly unfortunate for an agency that was the model for so many organizations around the world (who have handled the pandemic with more aplomb) has been so demoralized and discredited. The currency of public health is trust. I don’t know how the CDC recovers.

    Liked by 1 person

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