This blog has purposely avoided any political commentary in favor of focusing the discussion on the scientific and medical aspects of the pandemic. However, as we reach the end of the tenure of current public officials I think it’s important to identify problematic performance that has contributed to failures in the pandemic response.
Over the past month daily COVID-19 death tolls in the U.S. set new records, with over 3,000 deaths each day. What was CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield’s response to this milestone?
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 still 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.