April 22 (UPI) -- White House health officials on Wednesday warned there is a possibility COVID-19 could re-emerge next fall alongside the common flu, complicating the medical response.
During a briefing by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Centers for Disease Control and Protection Director Robert Redfield clarified statements he made in The Washington Post, saying he did not mean to imply such a reoccurrence would be "worse" than the current outbreak.
"I didn't say that this was going to be worse. I said it was going to be more difficult and potentially complicated because we'll have flu and coronavirus circulated at the same time," he said.
Redfield added that medical experts "had the benefit" of the flu season concluding before the coronavirus pandemic this season, allowing them to use flu surveillance systems to detect coronavirus.
"Next fall and winter we're going to have two viruses circulating and we're going to have to distinguish between which is flu and which is coronavirus," he said.
He went on to encourage Americans to get the flu vaccine, "taking flu out of the picture."
Task force coordinator Deborah Birx said she believes health experts will be able to detect COVID-19 more quickly in the event of a resurgence and will be able to prepare for that potential event over the summer.
"We have all of that time to prepare clearly the testing algorithm that you would need in a flu, potentially if COVID came back," she said.
Protesters rally against Virginia's stay-at-home order
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci said he was "convinced" there will be coronavirus in the fall but said that the size of the outbreak would be dependent on the response.
"I would caution against people thinking that in the fall there's not going to be coronavirus anymore and we won't have to worry about it," he said.
During the briefing, President Donald Trump also said he spoke with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp about his decision to open certain businesses including nail salons, massage therapists, bowling alleys and gyms on Friday, saying he believed it was too soon.
"I told the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, that I disagree strongly with his decision to open certain facilities which are in violation of the phase one guidelines for the incredible people of Georgia," Trump said.
The president added that he wants Kemp to "do what he thinks is right" and would allow other governors to make their own decisions, repeating his stance that he would intervene if he saw "something totally egregious" from a governor reopening businesses in their state.
Fauci said he would advise Kemp and other governors against "leapfrogging" portions of the federal government's three-phase outline for states to lift restrictions.
"I know the urge we all have to get out there and get it over with -- 'Let's get back to normal' -- for a lot of good reasons, because there's a lot of suffering, economic and otherwise in this country," Fauci said. "But again ... I plead with the American public, with the governors, with the mayors, for the people with responsibility, although I know one has the need to leapfrog over things, don't do that."
Kemp tweeted Wednesday evening that Georgia would continue with the approach as planned.
"Just like the thousands of businesses currently operating throughout Georgia, I am confident that business owners who decide to reopen will adhere to Minimum Basic Operations, which prioritize the health and well-being of employees and customers," he said.
Also Wednesday, Rick Bright, director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, said he was abruptly transferred to the National Institute of Health after clashes over what he described as "misguided directives" recommending the drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus.
Bright said he believes the transfer came "in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the COVID-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit."
He also said he will file a whistle-blower complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services' inspector general.
"I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science -- not politics or cronyism -- has to lead the way," he said. "Sidelining me in the middle of this pandemic and placing politics and cronyism ahead of science puts lives at risk and stunts national efforts to safely and effectively address this urgent public health crisis."