His back to the speakers, Dr. Tom Frieden, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stalked the aisles, smiling but looking haunted as more protesters roiled Capitol Hill.
As the epidemic of influenza threatens the nation’s capital, health officials fear the virus could become as much of a political issue as it is a national crisis, with dozens of lawmakers expected to grill top officials Tuesday and Wednesday, and demonstrators clutching signs and addressing long lines for vaccinations.
But Dr. Frieden and his family at home in New York had an entirely different problem: all his family members were sick. He would have preferred if his family had not encountered the disease in the first place.
But this is a different country, the 46-year-old infectious disease specialist said Sunday. Health concerns, traditionally a source of division, had become an issue of harmony, among neighbors fearful and frustrated by the spread of the flu and concerned about how the epidemic will affect them in their daily lives.
“There was a surge in fear,” Dr. Frieden said.
The flu is hitting at peak season, after a particularly active and long — the CDC’s estimate was that 40 percent of Americans may be stricken — season. And the rates of influenza activity across the country have spiked dramatically in recent weeks, creating health officials with increasing anxiety.
“The response is gigantic,” Dr. Frieden said. “People are trying to do the right thing.”
“You can hardly call it organized opposition because it’s so people are scared,” he added. “People are doing the right thing, it’s time we pay attention to what is going on.”
Dr. Frieden and other top officials planned to meet for a second day with a flurry of hearings and protests planned:
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tuesday, 10 a.m.
• Senate Finance Committee, Wednesday, 1 p.m.
• House Health Committee, Wednesday, 10 a.m.
Topping the list of those giving testimony: Dr. Amy Schulman, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, the first woman to lead that agency. Federal health officials and pharmaceutical companies will also present their plans.
Dr. Frieden’s son, Adrienne, has a treatable illness, an unidentified virus. His daughters, Anisley and Emma, who are 16 and 10, and his daughter Chloe, who is 5, do not have symptoms. Dr. Frieden said he had the flu shot but was concerned that his daughters might have the H3N2 strain of the virus, which has been linked to deaths.
Dr. Frieden traveled from New York on Sunday to attend a briefing by State Department officials to assure Washington’s diplomatic corps and embassies that the flu vaccine is available and could be used.
“We’re trying to help the diplomats make the right choices,” he said.
White House adviser Valerie Jarrett’s office announced on Monday that Jarrett will join President Trump in directing Vice President Mike Pence to travel to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to inspect relief efforts there.
Meanwhile, Republican senators will hold hearings to review the health care bills proposed by House Republicans and whether they would harm the nation’s health care system.