The coordinator of the Trump administration’s coronavirus response made a shocking revelation during a recent CNN interview — many of the 550,000 Americans lives lost to the pandemic could have been saved with better leadership.
In other words, managing the response to the pandemic under President Donald Trump — Dr. Deborah Birx’s responsibility — was a failure of historic proportions.
“I look at it this way,” Birx, a renowned HIV researcher and diplomat, told CNN, “The first time we have an excuse. There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original (coronavirus) surge. All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”
Why is she telling us now? And why did Birx persist in her high post, delivering a business as usual message, while she knew of so much needless death?
Similar questions might be asked of other health officials under Trump who also griped to CNN. Among them Robert Redfield, who ran the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Stephen Hahn, former chief of the Food and Drug Administration; and Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
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But Birx’s remarks were the most alarming and most damning, particularly from someone who was the public face of the government’s response during weeks of White House briefings, and who at times praised Trump’s leadership.
“He’s been so attentive to the scientific literature and the details and the data,” Birx told the Christian Broadcasting Network in March of last year. “I think his ability to analyze and integrate data that comes out of his long history in business has really been a real benefit during these discussions about medical issues.”
That same month — according to another recent interview Birx gave to CBS’s “Face the Nation” — she realized the pandemic was spinning out of control and Trump was refusing to endorse preventative measures like mask wearing.
“You have to figure out how to get that message out,” she complained to CBS, “when you can’t get it out from the head of the country.”
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So which was it? Was Trump brilliantly attentive? Or fatally remiss?
Birx was also famously quiescent during a White House briefing in April of last year when she sat by while Trump speculated about bleach injections and the use of light and heat as potential COVID treatments. When he pressed her at one point about using light and heat, her only response was that she hadn’t heard of it being done.
In any administration there’s tension between non-political advisers and presidents with wrong-headed views. And it can be difficult to expect anyone suddenly put on the spot during a news conference to respond in the most effective way. (Birx told CBS she took copious notes, so maybe there will be a book.)
But when you have a front row seat to deaths you know could be avoided and don’t raise the alarm publicly, that’s your responsibility.
Birx told CBS she lost sleep as numbers increased and that she thought about resigning countless times. “I had to ask myself every morning is there something that I think I can do that would be helpful in responding to this pandemic,” she said.
There were 100,000 deaths from COVID by late May. That number doubled by September and was approaching 300,000 on Election Day. Birx could have delivered an effective warning about the needless deaths if she acted before the election, but she didn’t.
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The nation dodged a bullet when Joe Biden defeated Trump and brought competent leadership to the coronavirus fight that’s created successes in widespread vaccinations and prevention efforts.
But it was a narrow victory. A difference of 43,000 votes in three states could have thrown the contest to the House of Representatives.If Trump had picked up 81,000 votes in four states, he would have won outright.
Birx owed the nation her honest opinion of how Trump was failing and costing thousands of Americans their lives. She’ll be remembered for the fact that she chose silence and keeping her job over her duty.