Deborah Birx 'always' considered quitting Trump coronavirus taskforce

Dr Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus task force co-ordinator under Donald Trump, “always” considered quitting as the US lurched into disaster under the 45th president – but didn’t.

Speaking to CBS in an interview to be broadcast in full on Sunday, Birx said: “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? And it’s something I asked myself every night.

“And when it became a point where … I wasn’t getting anywhere and that was like right before the election, I wrote a very detailed communication plan of what needed to happen the day after the election and how that needed to be executed. And there was a lot of promise that that would happen.”

Joe Biden won the election and was sworn in as the 46th president on Wednesday. Another senior US public health official, Dr Anthony Fauci, has since spoken of his relief over the change of administration.

According to Johns Hopkins University, by Saturday morning 413,791 people had died of Covid-19 in the US, out of nearly 25m cases. There were 3,758 deaths on Friday. It was also reported that hundreds of national guard troops who provided security for Biden’s inauguration have tested positive for the virus.

“There are national guard troops here from every state in the union, probably,” Birx said. “Young individuals who are most likely to have asymptomatic infection if they do get infected. And they’re congruently living and eating mask-less, 25,000 to 30,000 of them from all over the United States.”

Birx said the inauguration could prove to be a massive super-spreader event, because it had brought “30,000 people together where you know that they’re most likely to have asymptomatic infections and you haven’t pre-screened, pre-tested and serially tested.

“These are dedicated troops. They’re going to do their mission. I can promise you that they will sacrifice their own health to do their mission, because … that’s what I came from. You sacrifice for others out of the military.”

Birx, a US army physician, joined the Trump White House task force after a stellar career in public service, particularly in the fight against Aids.

On Friday, as Biden signed executive orders to tackle hunger and economic pressure during the pandemic, the new president predicted a US death toll of more than 600,000. Vaccines were developed quickly under Trump but their rollout has been slow. Biden has promised to oversee 100m vaccinations in his first 100 days in office.

The botched vaccination rollout has hit states with the capacity to vaccinate far more people than are currently receiving shots.

On Saturday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo said a Trump-era decision that extended eligibility beyond healthcare and essential workers to seniors wasn’t working because of limited supplies. While 7 million New Yorkers are now eligible for vaccines, the state is only receiving 250,000 doses weekly, down from 300,000, Cuomo said.

“They said they would increase the supply,” Cuomo told reporters in Albany. “They never did.”

Like Fauci and other experts thrust on to the media front line, Birx became a familiar face in a task force all too evidently at the mercy of a mercurial president given to lies, conspiracy theories and the politicisation of every aspect of the public health response.

Birx came under fire both from the president, who called her “pathetic”, and Trump’s critics. Nancy Pelosi was reported to have called her “the worst”.

Asked by CBS’s Face the Nation if she had considered quitting, Birx said: “Always. I mean, why would you want to put yourself through that, um, every day?

“Colleagues of mine that I had known for decades in that one experience, because I was in the White House decided that I had become this political person, even though they had known me forever.”

Asked if she thought “the election was a factor in communication about the virus”, she said: “Yes. Yes.”

Birx said she had been “censored” by the White House. Asked if she ever withheld information from the public, she said: “No.”

Birx was criticised in December for a visit to family despite pandemic restrictions. She told CBS she would “need to retire” from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “probably within the next four to six weeks”.


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