Trump’s Michigan rally leaves NIH director ‘disheartened’

National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis S. Collins said he was disheartened and deeply puzzled by the thousands of people who attended President Donald Trump’s Michigan rally, many of whom were not wearing masks.

“As a scientist, I’m pretty puzzled and rather disheartened,” said Collins, who speculated that aliens visiting earth would be confused by the political divide over the use of an effective way to prevent COVID-19 spread.

“You would scratch your head and think, ‘This is just not a planet that has much promise for the future,'” Collins told CNN hosts Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta Thursday.

An estimated 5,000 people attended the Thursday night rally outside of an airport hangar in Freeland. The visit followed smaller events held by Vice President Joe Biden in recent weeks.

Trump rally volunteers were taking people’s temperature upon entry and encouraging individuals to wear masks, but many did not during the president’s roughly 1 hour and 15 minute speech. 

With Air Force One in the background, supporters of President Donald Trump listen as he speaks during a campaign rally at MBS International Airport, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020, in Freeland, Mich.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, a Northville resident, said the visit symbolized the president’s recognition that the country needs to reopen its economy in a “healthy and safe way.”

“That’s the reality for most Americans and most Michiganders that we can’t bunker down in our basement forever. We all have to go back to work,” McDaniel told The Detroit News.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer earlier this week called the idea of the president “descending” on the state to gather people who may or may not be wearing masks “distressing to say the least.” But the governor’s office has said there are exceptions to her 100-person limit on outdoor gatherings for First Amendment rights such as political expression.

Still, individuals should wear masks or social distance at those events, the governor has cautioned.

Collins also said it is unlikely a vaccine will be available for mass use before Nov. 3, but speculated one could be available in December, possibly November.

Vaccine development, he said, is “moving forward at a pace that the world has never seen” but “not in a fashion that allows cutting corners with safety.”

“We are determined that science and science alone will be the way in which this decision gets made,” Collins said.

Craig Mauger contributed.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com