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Trump was influenced by ‘dangerous ideas’ about coronavirus, Birx tells the House panel

Written by Javed Iqbal

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Deborah Birx, who was asked to coordinate the Trump administration’s response to coronavirus in February 2020 but quickly lost favor with the president, on Thursday painted a picture of extensive dysfunction that she said misled the public and government officials, hampered coronavirus testing and contributed to unnecessary deaths from the virus.

“People communicated with the president dangerous ideas … on a daily basis,” such as encouraging former President Donald Trump to advocate unproven treatments, including hydroxychloroquine, or giving him misleading data about the virus, Birx told Parliament’s select subcommittee on coronavirus crisis .

Asked about Trumps repeated claims by 2020, that the virus would simply disappear, Birx suggested that the president mistakenly believed that if enough Americans were infected, the pandemic would disappear.

“I think there were people who communicated with the White House … who thought that if you infected enough people, you would have herd immunity. There was no evidence [of that] – in fact, there was evidence to the contrary, “Birx testified.

Birx also criticized Scott Atlas, a senior fellow in health policy at Stanford University, who joined the administration in July 2020 and won Trump’s favor, saying many infections were inevitable and encouraged a less robust government response. Atlas’ private advice and public comments broke with the recommendations of Birx and other pandemic experts such as Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top expert on infectious diseases.

“It certainly ruined any context in the response,” Birx said, adding that Atlas and other officials presented data to the president, which she believed painted a more rosy view of the pandemic than was justified.

“When you no longer agree on what is actually happening in the country and what needs to be done … then you lose the ability to execute in the maximum effective way,” Birx said.

Birx also told of an Oval Office meeting with Atlas and Trump in August 2020, where officials discussed a summer increase in cases of coronavirus.

“Dr. Atlas took the opportunity to emphasize that it did not matter what you did, each of these increases would be identical. It did not matter if you tested. In fact, it was to test young people… and ask them to isolate themselves while contagious, a violation of their rights, and that amounted to a lockdown, “Birx testified.” These kinds of thoughts, especially in any infectious disease, are dangerous. “

Birx told panel investigators last year that the looming election in 2020 distracted Trump officials from the pandemic, and that more than 130,000 American lives could be saved with faster action and better coordinated public health messages after the first wave of the virus.

“We have learned and will remember how politics was prioritized over science,” the rep said. James E. Clyburn (DS.C.), who chairs the panel, on Thursday.

Atlas did not respond to requests for comment. Atlas, which had no expertise in fighting pandemics, has blamed Birx for “harmful shutdowns” in early 2020, which he said caused extensive damage to children and the elderly.

“Dr. Birx can not be allowed to rewrite history and avoid responsibility for his mistakes,” Atlas told The Washington Post in a statement last year.

A spokesman for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Birx’s testimony and new allegations. “She was a very negative voice who did not have the right answers,” Trump said in a statement last year about Birx’s earlier criticism of the answer.

Republicans during the hearing pressed Birx on unresolved questions about where the virus originated, which Birx largely declined, complaining that Democrats failed to scrutinize the Biden administration’s pandemic strategy.

“Here we are today, and have another hearing with a witness to discuss things that happened more than two years ago,” the rep said. Steve Scalise (R-La.), The panel’s top Republican, asked why Fauci had not testified before the panel for more than a year and why former Biden White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients and current coordinator Ashish Jha had not been summoned. to answer questions about the current administration’s answers.

Birx separately criticized the ongoing response, saying better communication and more vaccinations were needed to save lives, especially in U.S. rural areas.

“We are still losing Americans today at … a very unacceptable rate when we have the tools to prevent it,” Birx said. Close to 300 Americans die every day from covid-19, according to The Post’s rolling seven-day average.

Democrats released Thursday hundreds of pages of interviews with Birx conducted in October last year in which she made further allegations about Trump’s White House’s pandemic strategy. Birx said Trump officials often asked her to change reports on the state of the pandemic, which she sent to governors’ offices, and she reluctantly agreed.

“If the changes had not been … made, the governors’ reports would not have gone out,” Birx told investigators, refusing to identify the officials demanding the changes.

The Democrats also released one this week staff report it failed Atlas as the author of a “dangerous and discredited flock immunity strategy” that drew on interviews with Birx and other officials and recently released documents.

The documents included a e-mail sent from Atlas to a Trump health official in March 2020, in which Atlas claimed that the coronavirus outbreak would likely “cause about 10,000 deaths” and argued that the federal government had overreacted. Atlas did not respond to The Post’s email questions.

Birx was the first former Trump official to testify publicly in front of Parliament’s panel on the previous administration’s response, and Democrats had originally envisioned their two-year plus coronavirus study as an opportunity to focus on Trump’s pandemic flaws heading into this year’s election.

But that strategy has been complicated by the persistence of the pandemic under President Biden and the electorate declining interest in coronavirus as a priority, and the panel’s findings have been increasingly overshadowed by other democratic priorities. Thursday morning the hearing was relatively subdued and lawmakers focused on an afternoon House panel examining Trump’s pressure on the Justice Department to overturn the 2020 election.

Birx sat alone at the hearing table, accompanied by her memoirs describing her time as Trump’s coronavirus coordinator. The book had sold 5,938 copies per. June 11, an analyst for NPD BookScan told The Post last week.

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Javed Iqbal

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