The result is a culture in which public health officials find themselves scrambling to appease and placate Trump, a mercurial boss who is focused as much on political and economic considerations as scientific ones.

An internal White House “Covid Mail” email address, for instance, exists to receive queries and suggestions from “friends and family” as well as random individuals — including doctors and business owners — from around the country who have reached out to White House officials. Those emails then get farmed out to the appropriate agencies — from the Food and Drug Administration to the Department of Health and Human Services — but some officials have privately worried that these missives receive priority and distract from more crucial scientific pursuits.

In another instance, Nancy Messonnier, the CDC’s director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, was removed from her post as her agency’s coronavirus response head after sounding early alarms that Americans should begin preparing for “significant disruption” to their lives from a “severe illness.” The CDC held its last daily briefing on March 9 — a forum through which the nation would normally receive critical public health information — in part out of a desire not to provoke the president.