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

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

“People were communicating dangerous ideas to the president on a daily basis…”, such as encouraging former President Donald Trump to advocate for unproven treatments, including hydroxychloroquine, or providing him with misleading data about the virus, Birx told the House select subcommittee on the corona crisis. .

Asked about Trump’s repeated claims in 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 individuals who communicated with the White House… who believed that if you infect enough people, you would have herd immunity. There was no proof [of that] – in fact there was evidence to the contrary,” Birx testified.

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

“It certainly destroyed any coherence in the response,” Birx said, adding that Atlas and other officials presented data to the president that they believed gave a rosier picture of the pandemic than was justified.

“If 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 most efficient and effective way,” Birx said.

Birx also talked about an Oval Office meeting with Atlas and Trump in August 2020, in which the officials discussed a summer surge of coronavirus cases.

“Dr. Atlas took that opportunity to make it clear that no matter what you did, each of these peaks would be identical. It didn’t matter if you tested. In fact, testing young people … and asking them to isolate themselves while they were contagious was an infringement of their rights, and it was tantamount to a lockdown,” Birx testified. “Those kinds of thoughts, especially with an infectious disease, are dangerous.”

Birx told panel researchers last year that the approaching 2020 election distracted Trump officials from the pandemic, and that more than 130,000 American lives could have been saved with quicker action and better coordinated public health messages after the first wave of the outbreak. virus.

“We have learned and will remember how politics took precedence over science,” said Rep. James E. Clyburn (DS.C.), who chairs the panel, Thursday.

Atlas did not respond to requests for comment. Atlas, who lacked expertise in fighting pandemics, has blamed Birx for “damaging lockdowns” in early 2020, which he said caused widespread harm to children and the elderly.

“Dr. Birx should not be allowed to rewrite history and shirk responsibility for its failures,” Atlas told The Washington Post in a statement last year.

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

Republicans at the hearing urged Birx on unresolved questions about where the virus came from, which Birx largely turned away, and complained that Democrats were not scrutinizing the Biden administration’s pandemic strategy.

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

Birx separately criticized the continued response, saying better communication and more vaccinations were needed to save lives, especially in rural America.

“We are still losing Americans today at … a very unacceptable rate if we have the resources to prevent it,” Birx said. According to The Post’s seven-day moving average, nearly 300 Americans die from Covid-19 every day.

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

“Had the changes not been made, the governors’ reports would not have come true,” Birx told the researchers, refusing to identify the officials requesting changes.

Democrats also released a staff report this week accusing Atlas of authoring a “dangerous and discredited herd immunity strategy,” based on interviews with Birx and other officials and newly released documents.

The documents include an email sent by Atlas to a Trump health official in March 2020, in which Atlas claimed 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 questions about the email.

Birx was the first former Trump official to testify publicly before the House panel about the previous administration’s response, and Democrats originally envisioned their two-year coronavirus investigation as an opportunity to correct Trump’s pandemic mistakes focus on this year’s elections.

But that strategy has been complicated by the persistence of the pandemic under President Biden and waning voters’ interest in coronavirus as a priority, and the panel’s findings are increasingly overshadowed by other Democratic priorities. Thursday morning hearing was relatively muted, with lawmakers focusing on an afternoon House panel examining Trump’s pressure on the Justice Department to undo the 2020 election.

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

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