Many in Trump White House believed coronavirus was ‘hoax’, Deborah Birx says

Covid task force coordinator ‘always’ felt like quitting, she reveals

Griffin Connolly
Sunday 24 January 2021 19:48 GMT
Deborah Birx thought about quitting Trump's Covid team: 'Why would you put yourself through that?'
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Several people within the Trump White House believed the coronavirus pandemic to be a “hoax,” said a coordinator on the Trump administration’s Covid task force and one of its leading spokespeople. 

“There were people who definitely believed that this was a hoax,” Dr Deborah Birx told CBS in an interview that aired on Sunday.

Dr Birx indicated that some of the president’s top advisers simply did not understand the magnitude of the disease’s impact because – as with any virus – the impact varies from patient to patient.

“I think because the information was confusing in the beginning. I think because we didn’t talk about the spectrum of disease, because everyone interpreted on what they knew, and so they saw people get Covid and be fine. And then they had us talking about how severe the disease is and how it could cause these unbelievable fatalities of our American public,” Dr Birx said, attempting to explain the origins of the conspiracy theories about the virus at the White House.

Central to the administration’s often cavalier approach to the pandemic, Dr Birx suggested, was its leader, Donald Trump, who in February 2020 proclaimed the pandemic was an overblown political “hoax” by the Democrats to tank his popularity ahead of the November election.

“Now the Democrats are politicising the coronavirus,” Mr Trump said at a campaign rally on 28 February. “They have no clue, they can't even count their votes in Iowa,” he said.

He continued: “This is their new hoax.”

The virus has killed more than 417,000 Americans and infected a total of 25m since that rally speech.

Dr Birx said in her interview on Sunday that such pronouncements undermined her and other health officials’ efforts to get Americans to buy into public health guidelines such as social distancing and mask-wearing.

“When you have a pandemic where you’re relying on every American to change their behavior, communication is absolutely key,” she said.

“Every time a statement was made by a political leader that wasn’t consistent with public health needs, that derailed our response. It is also why I went on the road, because I wasn’t censored on the road,” she said.

Dr Birx admitted she constantly felt like quitting, as she and Dr Anthony Fauci, the other major public face of the coronavirus response team, were continually put in the position of contradicting Mr Trump in order to better inform the public.

How often did she want to quit?

“Always. I mean, why would you want to put yourself through that every day?” she said.

Dr Birx, who worked under both George W Bush and Barack Obama, added that her biggest mistake during her time on the Covid task force was perhaps not being as outspoken about her grievances against the administration as she could have been.

“I always feel like I could have done more, been more outspoken, maybe been more outspoken publicly. I didn't know all the consequences of all of these issues,” she said.

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