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CDC director tries to walk back remarks on coronavirus

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield on Wednesday tried to temper remarks he made about the threat of a second wave of the novel coronavirus, saying the thrust of his comments was meant to urge Americans to embrace the vaccine for the flu.

“I didn’t say that this was going to be worse. I said it was going to be more difficult and potentially more complicated because we would have flu and coronavirus circulating at the same time,” Redfield said at the top of a White House briefing Wednesday evening.

The CDC director's comments came hours after President TrumpDonald John TrumpHillary Clinton responds to Chrissy Teigen tweet: 'I love you back' Police called after Florida moms refuse to wear face masks at school board meeting about mask policy Supreme Court rejects Trump effort to shorten North Carolina mail-ballot deadline MORE complained about a Washington Post report from Tuesday that included the top health official's remarks, saying the CDC chief would make a clarifying statement.

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“The key to my comments and the reason that I really wanted to stress them was to appeal to the American public and to embrace the flu vaccine with confidence,” Redfield said Wednesday.

Redfield acknowledged that his comments to the Post published Tuesday were quoted accurately, but he and Trump took issue with the news outlet’s headline, which characterized Redfield as warning that a “second wave of coronavirus is likely to be even more devastating.”

Redfield said during the briefing that he believed the public health infrastructure officials would have in place come fall — including contact tracing and surveillance — would prevent the need for Americans to resort to the stringent social distancing practices in place now.

Trump at the start of the briefing eviscerated the Post, calling the article “fake news” and the headline inaccurate.

“There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” Redfield told the newspaper in the interview. “And when I’ve said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they don’t understand what I mean.”

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Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that Redfield had been “totally misquoted,” referencing CNN’s report of his comments.

“CDC Director was totally misquoted by Fake News @CNN on Covid 19. He will be putting out a statement,” the president wrote.

The article, which was published Tuesday afternoon, prompted questions at a briefing on Tuesday evening. At the time, Deborah Birx, who is coordinating the federal response to the virus, signaled she disagreed with the idea that a second wave would be more damaging.

“I don’t know if it will be worse. I think this has been pretty bad. When you see what has happened in New York, that was very bad. I believe that we'll have early warning signals,” Birx said, noting that officials would have surveillance in place to detect cases, especially among the vulnerable.