Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY
Published 4:23 p.m. ET Sept. 11, 2020 | Updated 4:24 p.m. ET Sept. 11, 2020
A new book suggests that President Trump understood the threats of the coronavirus even as he told the nation it was no worse than the seasonal flu.
WASHINGTON — The director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, expressed disappointment in the political divisiveness over protection measures against the coronavirus, as seen by the large crowds that gather at President Donald Trump’s rallies.
“As a scientist, I’m pretty puzzled and rather disheartened,” Collins said Thursday when asked during a CNN town hall what he thinks of large events such as Trump’s Michigan rally where few wore masks or kept distance from each other.
Trump’s campaign rally on Thursday, held at MBS International Airport near Saginaw, drew more than 5,000 supporters. Despite state guidelines that require masks in areas where it is not possible to maintain 6 feet of distance from others, many in the crowd were seen without them.
The president has been resistant to wearing a mask in public and only solidly endorsed the practice as “patriotic” in July after the White House and his campaign stressed repeatedly that masks were only a recommendation, not a requirement, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. His campaign now sells Make America Great Again face coverings.
But some Trump supporters don’t think the pandemic is enough to warrant mask-wearing. One Michigan rally attendee, identified by CNN as Rod Beebee, was asked by CNN’s Jim Acosta why he wasn’t wearing a mask.
“Because there’s no COVID,” he said. “It’s a fake pandemic, created to destroy the United States of America.”
“It just deeply puzzles me. How did we get here?” Collins said. “Imagine you were an alien who landed on planet Earth, and you saw that our planet was afflicted by an infectious disease and that masks were an effective way to prevent the spread. And yet when you went around, you saw some people not wearing them and some people wearing them and you tried to figure out why.
“And it turned out it was their political party, and you would scratch your head and think, ‘This is just not a planet that has much promise for the future, if something that is so straightforward can somehow get twisted into decision-making that really makes no sense,'” Collins continued.
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Collins was appointed NIH director by former President Barack Obama and selected by Trump to continue in the role during the current administration.
Trump’s rallies since he began campaigning again in June have often featured largely maskless crowds. The Republican National Convention was also criticized for speeches delivered in front of large crowds.
The president came under fire this week as new revelations in veteran journalist Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book show Trump said he wanted to downplay the virus to prevent “panic.” He also acknowledged early on that the virus “goes through air.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, part of the White House coronavirus task force and the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, also commented on large gatherings, including political rallies, on Friday: “If you’re outdoors and you’re crowded together and you don’t have a mask, the chances of a respiratory transmission of a virus clearly are there.”
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