Dr. Deborah Birx, who helped run the coronavirus pandemic response for former President Donald Trump, told congressional investigators earlier this month that Trump’s White House failed to take steps that could have prevented tens of thousands of deaths.
In closed-door testimony before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, Birx said that tens of thousands of deaths could have been prevented after the initial phase of the pandemic if Trump had pushed mask-wearing, social distancing and other efforts to slow the spread of the virus.
“I believe if we had fully implemented the mask mandates, the reduction in indoor dining, the getting friends and family to understand the risk of gathering in private homes, and we had increased testing, that we probably could have decreased fatalities into the 30 per cent less to 40 per cent less range,” Birx testified, according to excerpts provided by the committee.
The committee’s interview with Birx was conducted October 12 and 13. In her testimony, she also lashed out at Dr. Scott Atlas, a former Stanford neuroradiologist who became an adviser to Trump and advocated for allowing the virus to spread through much of the population in order to let otherwise healthy people build up immunity against it.
She told the committee that Atlas had relied on incomplete information to draw dangerous conclusions that she felt could have long-term consequences for people who were infected with the virus and got sick.
“I was constantly raising the alert in the doctors’ meetings of the depth of my concern about Dr. Atlas’ position, Dr. Atlas’ access, Dr. Atlas’ theories and hypothesis, and the depths and breadths of my concern,” she said, referring to a group of doctors involved in the White House response who gathered regularly.
During her testimony, Birx said she repeatedly pushed Trump and others in the White House to do more to embrace efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus, especially in the fall of 2020. That was a period when Atlas was at the White House and Birx spent most of her time on the road, traveling from state to state to urge them to embrace prevention measures.
Asked whether Trump did everything he should have to counter the pandemic, she said: “No. And I’ve said that to the White House in general, and I believe I was very clear to the president in specifics of what I needed him to do.”
Birx’s description of her clashes with the White House last fall conflicts sharply with reporting about her actions earlier that year. She often argued to others in the White House that the pandemic was receding throughout April and May.
An article in The New York Times in July 2020 disclosed her optimistic discussions with top administration officials, including Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and Hope Hicks, an aide to Kushner: “Dr. Birx would roam the halls of the White House, talking to Mr. Kushner, Ms. Hicks and others, sometimes passing out diagrams to bolster her case. ‘We’ve hit our peak,’ she would say, and that message would find its way back to Mr. Trump.”
Birx declined to comment for that article.
In a statement, Atlas denied that he had advocated letting the virus spread until herd immunity was achieved, either to Trump or other officials in the White House.
“The claim that I advised the President at any point in my time in Washington to ‘let the infection spread widely without mitigation to achieve herd immunity’ is false,” he said. “I never advised the President, the Task Force, or anyone else while in Washington to allow the virus to spread.”
He also criticized Birx, saying that she “failed to stop the dying, failed to stop the infection from spreading” in her time in the White House.
“It is not a surprise that Dr. Birx, as the official Task Force Coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force from late February 2020 through January 19, 2021, might want to blame others for the failure of her policies,” Atlas’ statement said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
Written by: Michael D. Shear
Photographs by: Stefani Reynolds
© 2021 THE NEW YORK TIMES
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