Birx says Trump officials pushed to weaken COVID reports
Deborah Birx, former President Trump's coronavirus response coordinator, told a congressional hearing Thursday people were communicating "dangerous ideas" on the pandemic with him "on a daily basis."
Driving the news: In her first testimony before a House panel about her time in the Trump administration, Birx said there was "continued communication of underplaying the seriousness of this pandemic" that led to inaction early on across government agencies, which "created a false sense of security in America."
What she's saying: "It wasn't just the president — many of our leaders, were using words like 'we could contain,' and you cannot contain a virus that cannot be seen," Birx told the House select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis."And it wasn't being seen because we weren't testing."
- Birx noted "there were individuals communicating with the White House" who "believed that if you infected enough people that you would have herd immunity," despite there being no evidence of this and, "in fact, there was evidence to the contrary."
The big picture: The committee released hundreds of pages of documents that included a transcript of interviews with Birx last October in which she stated that unnamed Trump officials would demand she change COVID-19 reports for governors' offices.
- If the changes weren't made, "the governors' reports would not have gone out," Birx said. She added that changes would be made about 25% of the time.
- "It was my job to refute them and that's where we got to the 25/75," she said of the ratio rate of fighting against weakening the guidance.
Meanwhile, the House panel released an email from Scott Atlas, a senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution who joined the Trump administration in July 2020, stating in March of that year that the virus "would cause about 10,000 deaths."
- Atlas wrote "the panic needs to be stopped, both about the need for lockdown and even the need for urgent testing."
For the record: More than 1 million deaths from COVID-19 have been recorded in the U.S. since the pandemic began.
The bottom line: Birx testified that such comments by Atlas contradicting advice from her and other pandemic experts including NIAID director Anthony Fauci "destroyed any cohesion in the response."
- "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 efficient and effective way," Birx said.
The other side: Representatives for Trump and Atlas could not immediately be reached for comment, but the former president said in a statement last year that Birx "was a very negative voice who didn’t have the right answers."
- Atlas wasn't involved in the hearing, but previously played down his pandemic response role during an interview with committee staffers earlier this year, saying "Dr. Birx was responsible for the policies that were implemented previously and also during my time there and also after I left," per AP.
Go deeper: House report critiques Trump administration's COVID response