Testing czar Adm. Brett Giroir breaks with Trump on masks, CDC guidance as coronavirus cases surge

Giroir oversees the Trump administration's coronavirus testing efforts.

July 12, 2020, 1:46 PM

Adm. Brett Giroir broke with the president on ABC's "This Week" Sunday on a number of issues including the severity of the coronavirus, mask wearing and guidelines for reopening schools, as President Donald Trump pushes for schools to reopen for in-person instruction despite record-breaking coronavirus cases across the U.S. Sun Belt.

While Trump this week said the country is in "a good place," Giroir, who serves as the assistant secretary of Health in the Department of Health and Human Services and coordinates the federal government's coronavirus testing programs, characterized the current situation as "a better place" than in April but said to expect hospitalizations and death rates to rise in the coming weeks.

"We're all very concerned about the rise in cases, no doubt about that, and that's why we're meeting regularly, we're surging in assistance, but we are in a much better place," Giroir told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos.

"This is not out of control, but it requires a lot of effort, and everybody's going to have to do their part," he added.

While Giroir said the country this week has seen a leveling of the percent positive cases, Stephanopoulos challenged him, noting positivity levels in the hot spot states are leveling off "at a significantly high level" and that deaths are rising.

"We do expect deaths to go up. If you have more cases, more hospitalizations, we do expect to see that over the next two or three weeks before this turns around," Giroir acknowledged. "It's starting to turn now, but we won't reap the benefits of that for a few weeks."

Four months into the pandemic, Stephanopoulos pressed Giroir on testing as several state and local officials continue to complain that the government still lacks a coherent testing plan. Some cities are putting new limits on who can get tested, closing sites due to a shortage of supplies and reporting slow turnaround times for test results.

Giroir said the administration is confident they have enough tests to identify the locations of hotspot zones across the country and predicted in a couple of weeks they'll be able to test one million people per day as the types of tests get better, with more pooling and point-of-care options.

"Just because someone says we need 1.7 million tests a day, doesn't mean that that's true. We think we have enough test today to identify where the hotspots are," he said.

When Stephanopoulos pressed the testing czar on the persistence of long wait times in hotspots, Giroir replied, "yes and no."

"In some places we are, in some places we aren't. In Phoenix, for example, where everyone talks about it, we have 44 federal sites that are there that can be used in addition to those long lines," he said, though Mayor Kate Gallego said on CBS that Phoenix still faces a "real challenge" with testing.

One way Giroir said everyone can do their part is by wearing a mask in public -- a practice he called "essential" -- though he stopped short of calling for a national mask mandate, just one day after the president donned a mask for the first time in public.

Pressed on Trump's comment that wearing a mask is a "double-edged sword," Giroir broke with the president, telling Stephanopoulos, "There is no downside to wearing a mask."

"There is no medical reason, except for maybe one in a million, that people can't wear a mask according to the guidelines we have," he said.

As Trump ramps up his rhetoric around reopening schools, saying earlier this week that he thinks the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines are too tough and expensive, Giroir, a pediatric Intensive Care Unit physician, did not share the president's concerns, and told Stephanopoulos the CDC guidelines are "really right on target."

"It's really important to get kids physically back in school but we do have to do that safely. And the first thing we need to do is we need to get the virus under control. When we get the virus more under control, then we can really think about how we put children back in the classroom," he said.

"The guidelines aren't changing this week. These are more guidelines that are amenable to school districts actually implementing them," Giroir continued, explaining the reasoning for new guidelines coming out after the president's criticisms. "The CDC guidelines tend to be a little bit academic and long. These are going to be much more concise, so people can really follow them and understand them."

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