dr. Deborah L. Birx, President Donald J. Trump’s Covid-19 response coordinator, told a congressional committee investigating the federal pandemic response that Trump White House officials asked her to share the weekly guidelines she sent to state and local health officials sent to modify or remove it. , in what she described as a consistent effort to suppress information as virus cases surged in the second half of 2020.
dr. Birx also told the committee that Trump White House officials withheld state reports during a winter outbreak and refused to release the documents, which include data on the spread of the virus and recommendations for containing it.
dr. Birx became a controversial figure during her time in the Trump White House. A respected AIDS researcher, she was picked from her position to lead the government’s program to fight the international HIV epidemic to coordinate the federal Covid response.
But her credibility came into question when she failed to correct Mr Trump’s unscientific musings about the coronavirus, praising him on television as having “attention to the scientific literature.”
Her account of White House interference came in a multi-day interview the commission held in October 2021, which was released Thursday with a series of emails Dr. Birx sent to colleagues in 2020, warning of the influence of a new White House pandemic adviser, Dr. Scott Atlas, who she said downplayed the threat of the virus. The emails provide new insight into how Dr. Birx and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s chief infectious disease expert, grappled with what Dr. Birx called the “misinformation” provided by Dr. Atlas. was distributed.
The pressure to downplay the threat was so pervasive, Dr. Birx told the committee’s investigators that she was developing techniques to avoid the attention of White House officials, who may have objected to her public health recommendations. In reports she prepared for local health officials, she said, she sometimes put ideas at the end of sentences so that colleagues skimming her reports wouldn’t notice them.
dr. Birx will testify publicly before the panel on Thursday, which can be viewed live here.
In an email obtained by the committee, dated August 11, 2020, Dr. Birx to Dr. Fauci and other colleagues described what they called a “very dangerous” Oval Office meeting with Mr. Trump mentioned, in which Dr. Atlas argued against testing for the virus, saying it could harm Mr Trump’s reelection efforts and had “wrongly inflated” the number of cases.
In addition to Dr. Fauci the email was sent to Dr. Robert Redfield, then director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and dr. Stephen Hahn, then the Food and Drug Administration Commissioner. In it, Dr. Birx that Dr. Atlas had inspired Mr Trump to call for closer recommendations on who should get tested.
“Business identification is bad for presidential re-election — testing should only be of the sick,” she told Dr. Atlas.
“He noted that it was the task force that got us into this ditch by promoting testing and falsely increasing the number of cases compared to other countries,” she added, referring to a group of senior health officials who met regularly in the White House. “The conclusion was that Dr. Atlas is brilliant and the president will now follow his lead.”
In another email sent to senior health officials two days later, Dr. Birx listed seven ideas that Dr. Atlas embraced that she believed to be misinformation, including that the virus was similar to the flu and that “children are immune to be”.
“I don’t know what to do,” she wrote, warning that if caseloads continued to increase, there would be “300K deaths” by December. The United States ended the year with more than 350,000 Covid deaths.
In her interviews with the committee last year, Dr. Birx described the regular efforts to undermine the weekly pandemic assessments she first sent to state and local officials in June 2020, which provided “comprehensive data and state-specific recommendations on the status of the pandemic.” offered,” the committee wrote in a press release.
Beginning in the fall of that year, Dr. Birx said, she began receiving “a list of changes for three or four states” each week, sometimes accompanied by efforts to relax mask recommendations or indoor capacity restrictions. In one case, she was asked to soften guidelines for officials in South Dakota and remove some recommendations for the state, which at the time had an increase in the number of cases.
dr. Birx told the committee’s investigators she was asked to change the reports about “25 percent” of the time or they wouldn’t be sent.