Q: Why aren’t you afraid of speaking your mind at the White House?

A: I’m walking a fine line of being someone who is not hesitant to tell the President and the Vice President what they may not want to hear. There are some people in the White House, who, even when I first started telling it like it was in the Task Force meetings, they were like, “Oh my goodness.” That’s when I got that nickname “the skunk at the picnic.” When they would strike an optimistic note, I would say, “No, wait a minute.”

I used my experience with the activists during the early years of the AIDS pandemic to say, “If you really want to know what’s going on, you have got to talk to the people in the trenches.” So when people were saying, “Testing is fine, everybody who wants to test can have a test,” I’d get on the phone at night and talk to the individual people who are either the assistant Health Commissioner, the Health Commissioner, or somebody who’s running an ICU, from New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Seattle, and LA . I’d do that regularly, and what they were seeing in the trenches was not always what was happening in the discussions. So I bring this perspective to the Task Force and I say, “I’m sorry, I’m not trying to undermine the president. But there is something that’s called reality.”

When you have 70,000 [COVID-19] infections a day and that plateaus at 44,000, that’s really not very good news. Some might say, “Well, you know, we should be positive since there are parts of the country that are doing well.” I do not disagree: Yes, there are parts of the country that are doing well, where the test positivity is 1% or less. But other areas are not doing well, and this country is a big forest, and when you have fires in some parts of the forest, the entire forest is at risk.