NIH chief: It's been a while since Trump met with COVID taskforce

The good news is, the White House Coronavirus Taskforce still exists. The bad news, Trump isn't spending much time with it.
Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, testifies at a hearing on Capitol Hill to examine the Federal response to the opioid crisis Oct. 5, 2017 in Washington D.C.
Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, testifies at a hearing on Capitol Hill to examine the Federal response to the opioid crisis Oct. 5, 2017 in Washington D.C.Olivier Douliery / Sipa USA via AP

The good news is, as coronavirus cases in the United States keep climbing toward a new, third peak, the official White House Coronavirus Taskforce still exists. The bad news, as The Hill reported yesterday, is that Donald Trump doesn't appear to be spending much time meeting with the taskforce's members.

President Trump has not met with the White House coronavirus task force in "quite some time," the head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said Tuesday. NIH Director Francis Collins told NPR's "Morning Edition" that Trump instead gets his information from Vice President Pence and task force member Scott Atlas, neither of whom are infectious disease experts.

There was a point, especially in the spring and summer, when the White House Coronavirus Taskforce was a high-profile entity. While that's obviously changed, Collins told NPR yesterday that the group "continues to meet regularly," even if the president hasn't directly engaged with the taskforce in "quite some time."

The NIH director added that Trump is "primarily getting his information" from Pence and Atlas. The result is an inherently problematic dynamic during a deadly pandemic: when the president, vice president, and the White House Coronavirus Taskforce's most influential figure get together for a conversation, the combined trio has literally no background in public health or infectious disease mitigation.

When NPR's Steve Inskeep asked whether the public should be concerned about this, Collins paused, took a breath, and carefully dodged the question: "You know, Steve, I don't think I want to delve too deeply into the political side of this. As a scientist, as a physician, I'm trying to do everything I can to oversee the science going forward. And the political part of this tends to be a little bit harder for me to understand."

As for public understanding of the coronavirus threat, the NIH director acknowledged how easy it is for Americans to get confused, but he had some advice to help cut through the noise.

"I would just urge people listening to our conversation right now, trust the public health officials," Collins said. "They really don't have an axe to grind. Trust CDC. Trust Fauci. Trust the folks at the FDA who are trying to do their jobs.... If you're trying to get public health information, it's probably good to listen to a public health expert."

Noticeably, the NIH chief didn't say a word about the public seeking reliable information from Trump, Pence, or the radiologist the president saw on Fox News.