Photo: Marketwatch
Who is Deborah L. Birx: Bio, Career, What she suggested & Responses. Photo: Marketwatch

For those who weren’t tuning in to the daily White House coronavirus press briefings earlier in the coronavirus outbreak — and who may now be actively tuning pandemic updates out — the woman whom both President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi turned on over the weekend may be an unfamiliar face.

Deborah L. Birx: Bio & Career

Dr. Deborah L. Birx, 64, is a world-renowned global health official and a retired U.S. Army physician who was instrumental in HIV/AIDS vaccine research, and whose career has spanned three decades.

And ever since Vice President Mike Pence appointed her as the response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force — one of two women on the team — she’s been on national TV almost daily, often alongside Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, according to Marketwatch.

Deborah L. Birx: What she suggested?

Photo: Nytimes
Photo: Nytimes

In interviews broadcast on CNN Sunday night, former President Donald J. Trump’s pandemic officials confirmed in stark and no uncertain terms what was already an open secret in Washington: The administration’s pandemic response was riddled with dysfunction, and the discord, untruths and infighting most likely cost many lives.

Dr. Deborah L. Birx, Mr. Trump’s coronavirus response coordinator, suggested that hundreds of thousands of Americans may have died needlessly, and Adm. Brett P. Giroir, the testing czar, said the administration had lied to the public about the availability of testing.

As of Sunday, more than 548,000 Americans have died from infection with the coronavirus. “I look at it this way,” she said. “The first time, we have an excuse. There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge.”

“All of the rest of them,” she said, referring to almost 450,000 deaths, “in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially” had the administration acted more aggressively, Nytimes noted.

In what was one of her first televised interviews since leaving the White House in January, she also described a “very uncomfortable, very direct and very difficult” phone call with Mr. Trump after she spoke out about the dangers of the virus last summer. “Everybody in the White House was upset with that interview,” she said.

Praise for Deborah L. Birx

Marc Lipsitch. Photo: Harvard
Marc Lipsitch. Photo: Harvard

Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who has worked on modeling this virus, tweeted a lengthy rebuttal to her comment that there currently isn't data showing that 20% of population could get infected.

"The scenario Dr. Birx is 'assuring' us about is one in which we somehow escape Italy's problem of overloaded healthcare system despite the fact that social distancing is not really happening in large parts of the US... That is unlikely," he wrote.

Lipsitch called Birx's characterization of the current coronavirus situation in the U.S. "rosy" and even "deceptive." "I desperately hope she is right, because much suffering will be avoided," Lipsitch noted. "But reassurance that this is likely, or even plausible, with the disorganized track record of the US response, is false reassurance."

Criticism for Deborah L. Birx from both Trump and Pelosi

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: ABC News
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: ABC News

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

On Sunday morning, Pelosi questioned Birx’s credibility on ABC News’ “This Week,” where she criticized the doctor for not doing more to refute the president’s inaccurate remarks about the coronavirus. “I think the president is spreading disinformation about the virus and she is his appointee,” Pelosi said. “So I don’t have confidence there, no.”, NPR reported.

Photo: NBC Boston
Photo: NBC Boston

President Trump

In a lengthy statement Monday evening, Mr. Trump shot back at Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx, blasting them as “two self promoters trying to reinvent history to cover for their bad instincts and faulty recommendations,” while praising his administration’s efforts to develop a vaccine.

The former president, who routinely questioned the need for lockdowns and other precautions during his administration, said of Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx, “If it were up to them, we’d currently be locked in our basements as our country suffered through a financial depression.”

A response from the White House

And this has led to mixed messages from the White House. While communications director Alyssa Farah tweeted Sunday that Pelosi was “deeply irresponsible” for repeatedly trying to “undermine & create public distrust in Dr Birx, the top public health professional on the coronavirus task force,” the president called Birx’s response to Pelosi’s criticism “pathetic” on Twitter TWTR, +2.74% Monday morning.

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