Birx: Majority of US Covid deaths were avoidable
Ambassador Deborah L. Birx, M.D., the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator participates in a Nov. 19, 2020, briefing with members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force in Washington, DC. EFE/EPA/Chris Kleponis / POOL
Health care workers remove a body from a refrigerated truck serving as a temporary morgue at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York. EFE/EPA/Peter Foley/File
Washington, Mar 28 (efe-epa).- Once the United States exceeded 100,000 deaths from Covid-19, those that came afterwards could have been "decreased substantially," according to the former coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, Dr. Deborah Birx.
The former official in the Donald Trump administration commented on the matter on a program broadcast on Sunday on CNN, excerpts of which were aired earlier, and her remarks have sparked controversy in a country where the pandemic death toll is approaching 550,000.
"I look at it this way: The first time we have an excuse. There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge," Birx told CNN. "All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially."
In the excerpt broadcast by CNN, Birx did not clarify how the death toll could have been reduced after the first 100,000 fatalities, a threshold that was crossed at the end of May 2020.
Birx, a diplomat and physician who left the government's anti-Covid team when President Joe Biden came into office in January, has not shared the fame enjoyed in the US by the other key figure in the federal government's response to the pandemic, namely chief US epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci.
In contrast to Fauci, who often contradicted Trump's pronouncements on the pandemic and now advises Biden on matters related to the pandemic, Birx was criticized for keeping silent or even occasionally praising Trump's management of the health crisis.
Trump came in for harsh criticism from many more liberal quarters when he repeatedly contradicted the advice of public health officials and medical experts on how to limit the spread of the relatively contagious coronavirus.
Among other things, the former president - while still in office - downplayed the seriousness of the virus, said repeatedly that it would "just go away" and criticized and mocked established health practices like wearing face masks and social distancing.
In January, Birx had confessed to CBS News that she had thought about resigning many times because she felt the Trump White House was censuring her in terms of the science-based information she was allowed to publicly impart on the pandemic as well as prohibiting her for speaking with the media at all for a time.
In her Sunday interview with CNN, Birx also said that she held a "very uncomfortable" and "very difficult" telephone conversation with Trump last August, after she warned in an interview with the same cable channel that Covid-19 was "extraordinarily widespread" and reaching into the country's rural areas, whereas previously it had been concentrated in the large cities.
"It was a CNN report in August that got horrible pushback. That was a very difficult time, because everybody in the White House was upset with that interview and the clarity that I brought about the epidemic," Birx said, adding the Trump telephoned her and apparently lambasted her, saying only that the call was "very uncomfortable, very direct and very difficult to hear."
Meanwhile, Congressman Ted Lieu (Dem.-Calif.) said that Birx shared responsibility for what she had suggested were preventable deaths.
"The malicious incompetence that resulted in hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths starts at the top, with the former President and his enablers," Lieu posted on Twitter. "And who was one of his enablers? Dr. Birx, who was afraid to challenge his unscientific rhetoric and wrongfully praised him."
The US has been the country hardest hit by the pandemic in absolute terms with more than 30.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and almost 549,000 deaths, according to the independent tally being kept by The Johns Hopkins University.