Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will leave his post on Wednesday. An infectious-disease specialist with a focus on treatments for AIDS/H.I.V., Dr. Redfield led the public health agency during one of the most tumultuous periods in its history. He was frequently criticized for moving too slowly to protect the United States from the coronavirus, especially regarding the initial rollout of coronavirus tests, while being attacked by Mr. Trump and others within the administration for contradicting their overly optimistic scenarios of the likely course of the pandemic.
On the weekend before his departure, Dr. Redfield talked in an interview about his challenges and his disappointments. Here are two of his notable responses.
(This interview has been edited and condensed.)
What is it like to leave now, before the pandemic is over?
It’s hard to leave at a time when the pandemic still hasn’t reached its peak and the worst days haven’t come. It would have been more rewarding to leave when the pandemic is under control, but I do feel proud.
I encourage the president-elect to focus on his pledge to get people vaccinated in 100 days. I’m glad we gave him a foundation to build on. Last week, we had two days when we vaccinated one million people a day. We laid a foundation for vaccine administration. I find it unfortunate when some people suggest that the vaccine program delivering one million a day is somehow a disaster — but it will be a model when the Biden administration does it.
I’m not trying to criticize the Biden administration at all. But he’s pledged to do 100 million people in 100 days. We’re on the verge of delivering one million a day, and yet I heard his chief of staff on the Sunday talk shows saying that our vaccine program was a disaster and they inherited a mess. I’d rather they would be thankful. That’s better dialogue than political hyperbole.
What was your greatest disappointment?
My greatest disappointment was the lack of consistency of public health messaging and the inconsistency of civic leaders to reinforce the public health message. You can read between the lines what that means — “civic leaders.”
You can see that different parts of our society have different perspectives on what needed to be done. Controlling the pandemic was always, in my view, aligned effectively with maintaining the economic health of our nation. It wasn’t an either/or — we showed that in schools. You can still keep businesses, hospitals, et cetera, open and do it in a safe and responsible way. There are some parts of our economy that will need to have some restrictions. I would argue that having people in a crowded bar, drinking three or four beers without their masks, talking louder and louder so they spray their respiratory secretions further and further, is probably something that needs to be curtailed.
But the fact that we didn’t have an alignment meant we had the private sector and public sector all wrestling with how to put it together independently. So the reality is we are in for some very difficult times, and I think I would have loved to have been proved wrong. I still believe the worst is yet to come.