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Deborah Birx says Trump in the White House asked her to weaken the Covid guidance

Written by Javed Iqbal

WASHINGTON – Dr. Deborah L. Birx, President Donald J. Trump’s Coronavirus Response Coordinator, told a congressional committee examines the federal pandemic response that Trump White House officials asked her to change or delete portions of the weekly guide she sent to state and local health officials in what she described as a consistent effort to stifle information as virus cases rose second half of 2020.

Dr. Birx, der testified in public to the panel Thursday morning, the committee also told that White House officials withheld reports from states during a winter outbreak and refused to release the documents, which contained data on the virus’ spread and recommendations on how to limit it.

Her account of interference from the White House came in one multi-day interview the committee implemented in October 2021, which was released Thursday with a set of emails that Dr. Birx sent to colleagues in 2020 with a warning about the influence of one new White House pandemic adviser, Dr. Scott Atlas, as she said downplayed the threat from the virus. The emails provide fresh insight into how Dr. Birx and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s best expert in infectious diseases, struggled with what Dr. Birx called the misinformation that Dr. Atlas spread.

The pressure to downplay the threat was so widespread, Dr. Birx told the committee’s investigators that she was developing techniques to divert attention from White House officials who might have objected to her recommendations on public health. In reports she prepared for local health officials, she said she sometimes put ideas at the end of sentences so colleagues who skimmed the text would not notice them.

In her testimony on Thursday, she offered similarly withered assessments of the Trump administration’s response to coronavirus, suggesting that by 2020, officials had mistakenly seen the coronavirus as related to influenza, even after seeing high Covid-19 death rates in Asia and Europe. . That perspective, she said, had caused a “false sense of security in America” ​​as well as a “sense among the American people that this would not be a serious pandemic.”

Not using “concise, consistent communication,” she added, “resulted early in passivity, I think, across our agencies.”

And those at fault, she said, were not “just the president.”

“Many of our leaders used words like ‘We could accommodate,'” she continued. “And you can not contain a virus that can not be seen. And it was not seen because we did not test.”

Dr. Birx became a controversial figure during his time in Trump’s White House.

She was a respected AIDS researcher picked from his position runs the government’s program to combat the international HIV epidemic to coordinate the federal Covid response. But her credibility came into play when she failed to correct Mr. Trump’s unscientific musings on coronavirus and praised him on television for “paying attention to the scientific literature.” She was also criticized to reinforce the messages from the White House in the first months of the coronavirus outbreak that the pandemic was easing.

But as the outbursts continued that year, Mr. Trump and some senior advisers became increasingly impatient with Dr. Birx and her health colleagues, who insisted on aggressive mitigation efforts. Looking for a contrarian presence, the White House hired Dr. Atlas, who acted as a rival to Dr. Birx.

“They believed in the counterfactual points that were never supported by data from Dr. Atlas,” she said in Thursday’s hearing.

IN an email obtained by the committee, dated 11 August 2020, told Dr. Birx Dr. Fauci and other colleagues about what she called a “very dangerous” Oval Office meeting with Mr. Trump. In that session, she said, Dr. Atlas called masks “overrated and unnecessary”, and had argued against virus testing, saying it could harm Mr. Trump politically.

Dr. Birx claimed that Dr. Atlas had inspired Mr. Trump to call for narrower recommendations about who should apply for tests.

“Case identification is poor for the president’s re-election – tests should only be on the sick,” she said. Atlas said.

“He noted that it was the task force that got us into this ditch by promoting testing and erroneously increasing the number of cases compared to other countries,” she added, referring to a group of senior health officials who regularly gathered in the White House. “The conclusion was that Dr. Atlas is brilliant and the president will follow his guidance now.”

IN another email sent to senior health officials two days later, Dr. cataloged. Birx’s seven ideas, which Dr. Atlas advocated, as she referred to as misinformation, including that the virus was comparable to the flu, that football players could not get seriously ill from the virus, and that “Children are immune.”

“I am in doubt as to what we should do,” she wrote, warning that if the number of cases continued to rise, there would be “300,000 dead by December.” The United States ended the year with more than 350,000 Covid deaths.

“I know what to do,” wrote Dr. Fauci in response. “I will keep saying what we have been saying all along, contradicting each of his seven points listed below. If the press asks me if what I am saying is different from his, I will just say, that I respectfully disagree with him. ”

In his interviews with the committee last year, Dr. Birx’s regular attempts by others to undermine the weekly pandemic assessments she first sent to state and local officials in June 2020, which offered “comprehensive data and state-specific pandemic status recommendations,” the committee wrote.

Beginning in the fall of the same year, Dr. Birx, she began receiving “a list of changes for three or four states” each week, which sometimes involved bids to loosen mask recommendations or indoor capacity constraints. In one case, she was asked to soften the guidance for South Dakota officials and remove some recommendations to the state, which had an increase in cases.

When she asked the White House to publish the reports so Americans would know more about outbreaks in their communities, the request was denied, she told investigators. In December 2020, she told them, the White House stopped sending the reports to states unless they were asked.

Dr. Birx told committee investigators she was asked to change the reports about “25 percent” of the time, otherwise they would not be sent.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed with reporting.

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Javed Iqbal

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