There was good news and then bad news for public health expertise yesterday. In the wake of increasingly unhinged behavior from a President Trump-appointed communications director at the US Department of Health and Human Services, he and one of his key appointees have left their posts—one for two months, one permanently. But any hopes that science might resume being the main driver of US health policy were short-lived. Earlier in the day, CDC head Robert Redfield and other Health and Human Services officials testified before a Senate panel. By the evening, the president himself was calling his own CDC director mistaken about everything from mask use to the schedule of vaccine availability.
By the end of the day, Redfield was tweeting statements that balanced ambiguity against seeming to support Trump's view.
A backdrop of turmoil
A constant background of tension has existed between the Trump administration (which wants the country to return to normal operations despite the medical consequences) and public health officials (who actually want to protect the public's health). But several things have driven those tensions into the open recently, starting with last week's revelation that political appointees were attempting to interfere with reports from career scientists at the CDC. That issue was seemingly resolved in the CDC's favor, as a key administration figure in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Michael Caputo, took a two-month medical leave after making a video in which he spoke of armed uprisings and conspiratorial cabals of CDC scientists.