Patterico's Pontifications

3/29/2021

Dr. Birx: Concerns About Trump’s Reaction Resulted in Restrained Messaging About Covid Risks

Filed under: General — Dana @ 10:58 am



[guest post by Dana]

In a CNN special about COVID-19, top health officials talk openly with Dr. Sanjay Gupta about the pandemic and their experiences as medical professionals during the past year. Here is a devastating statement from Dr. Deborah Birx about the massive death toll in the US:

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator under Trump, said the majority of those deaths could have been prevented.

“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 said. “All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”

In another segment of the interview, Dr. Birx, who joined the White House coronavirus task force to counter the administration’s efforts to play down the risk of Covid-19, was asked whether she felt Trump had threatened her to keep quiet about how widespread the virus was:

Birx was not able to do quite as much as she had hoped. After speaking out in August about the coronavirus pandemic being “extraordinarily widespread” across both rural and urban communities in the US, Birx received a call from former President Trump, after which she says she was blocked from speaking about the pandemic nationally.

“I got called by the President. It was very uncomfortable, very direct and very difficult to hear,” Birx said.

Asked if President Trump threatened her, Birx said “I would say it was a very uncomfortable conversation.”

Birx said she took her public warnings about the pandemic to a local level.

She said she would speak frankly “with regional and local press and governors and mayors — and be very clear about mask mandates and closing bars and severely restricting indoor dining and all of these elements that I was never allowed to say nationally.

Asked if she was being censored, Birx said “Clearly someone was blocking me from doing it. My understanding is I could not be national because the President might see it.”

She added “He felt very strongly that I misrepresented the pandemic in the United States, that I made it out to be much worse than it is. I feel like I didn’t even make it out as bad as it was.”

It’s a bit hard to square Dr. Birx today with Dr. Birx one year ago when she just couldn’t say enough about Trump and his efforts in the pandemic fight:

“He’s been so attentive to the scientific literature and the details and the data. I think his ability to analyze and integrate data that comes out of his long history in business has really been a real benefit during these discussions about medical issues.

Was it her worst decision to accept a position under the Trump administration in the first place? Would she have had more of a voice working outside of the White House and influence decisions that could have ultimately helped save more American lives? Obviously, Trump would have fired Dr. Birx had she openly defied his efforts to downplay the virus. But she would have walked out with her integrity fully intact. It’s been clear that those in prominent and influential positions in the Trump administration who had daily contact with the former president would eventually be compelled to make a decision about whether they were willing to cross the line of complicity or walk away:

She, like many of us, had no idea how badly his administration would distort, ignore and deny science and the truth during the pandemic. Although she said she took the job out of a sense of obligation (“That’s what a civil servant is supposed to do,” she said a year later), Birx became inextricably tied to the harmful decisions of her negligent, disastrously ignorant boss.

As of today, the U.S. COVID-19 death toll stands at 549,000.

–Dana

30 Responses to “Dr. Birx: Concerns About Trump’s Reaction Resulted in Restrained Messaging About Covid Risks”

  1. I really think Dr. Birx was in a no-win situation. Anyone would have been.

    Dana (fd537d)

  2. She came out okay. Got her checks, her perks, and her benefits, and now idiots on CNN making pretend that her word is worth a plugged nickel.

    I never believed her or trusted her. Not Fauci, either. I know real doctors and real scientists, and these two are not it. Just bureaucratic hacks with medical degrees.

    nk (1d9030)

  3. So she’s a soothsayer as well as a scientist. Good to know.

    Can she tell me who would have won the World Series in 2001 had Al Qaeda not attacked in 11 September?

    Hoi Polloi (15cfac)

  4. I don’t fault those who served in the Trump administration(those who weren’t hard core Trump loyalists), and mitigated the circumstances as best as they could, given Trump’s nature. I think that many of them did at times manage to restrain some of Trump’s worst impulses and tendencies. That is why I think that much of what POTUS 45 spewed from his mouth or in tweets never came to fruition(thankfully!). There is nothing more that Trump wants than obsequious devotion to him, lashing out anyone who gave a whiff of criticism to him and praising those who praised him. In that regard, Trump was a simpleton. Maybe Dr. Birx thought that showering him with public praise at times was the only way to get him not to do something downright wacky and dangerous. In any case, I’m glad that Fauci, Birx, and other competent individuals served in the Trump administration. I can only imagine how things would’ve turned out, had his administration been reduced to a bunch of Stephen Millers, Peter Navarros, and Jenna Ellis types. So I definitely agree that Dr. Birx and others of her ilk were in a no-win situation.

    HCI (92ea66)

  5. Questions that I hesitate to ask, but increasingly consider:

    If one says that at least 100,000 lives could have been saved if Trump left office early, are the People utterly helpless to defend themselves? I mean, we have Trump supporters who consider their insurrection against the “steal” to be justified; would that have been justified if it actually was a steal?

    And if so, what actions would be justified to remove a president who was responsible for letting 100,000 people die unnecessarily? When does it become a moral responsibility to act?

    I think, first, one needs to hold the Senate responsible, and the House as well, for not coming back to impeachment for malfeasance and incompetence as people started dying. At the very least the Senators would be held responsible for their choices.

    Not sure what would be justified after that, or if the “cure” would be worse than the disease. This is exactly the consideration that led Ben Franklin to insist on impeachment while in office, not liking other options.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  6. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Dr birx should have read profiles in courage. Those republicans who refused to convict trump in the first trial are also responsible for these deaths.

    asset (b7d6d3)

  7. As for Brix or Fauci or any of them, they could have said what they thought and been fired, or quit. They could have, once quit, argued for a new impeachment, framed it as saving lives, and put the Congress squarely on the spot. Romney caught hell for some insurance decision he made that harmed someone, what do you think killing a bunch of people through party loyalty would do?

    I understand then saying that leaving would have placed less competent people in charge of the bureaucracy, but it was also self-serving as leaving and raising a fuss would have made them unemployable in government going forward. Not sure what it makes them now.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  8. Dr birx should have read profiles in courage

    That book lauded several people who deserved approbation instead, like the guy who voted not to impeach Andrew Johnson for supporting Confederate revanchists.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  9. Kevin,

    I agree that impeachment should also be available for massive, and personality driven incompetence. I know the stray dialogue at the Constitutional Convention that “maladministration” should not be sufficient, but I don’t think they really understood how difficult a successful impeachment would be, and completely botching the job seems to rise a little above maladministration. It seems more like a high misdemeanor of someone who has sworn to faithfully execute the duties of office.

    You’d think the 25th Amendment could also work but a president’s cabinet VP are usually even more gutless lackeys than the Senate.

    Victor (4959fb)

  10. Kevin,

    The same people who are saying Trump murdered thousands, or thousands of lives could have been saved without Trump being in office, are the same ones denying Cuomo has any liability. They are also the same ones who will say not one COVID life lost under Biden will be Biden’s fault.

    They are ghouls. Don’t waste your time with them.

    Hoi Polloi (15cfac)

  11. Pfft. Who is she kidding.

    “Damage Control, REPORT!”- Captain Lee Crane [David Hedison], every episode, ‘Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea’- ABC TV, 1964-1968

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  12. Who are the ones denying Cuomo got it wrong? None of the leftists I know.

    What had Biden done so far that makes him responsible for any of the deaths since Jan. 20th? I am genuinely curious. Do you think he should take steps to shut down things even more? Has he done too little to push vaccinations, now averaging 2.6 million/day? Feel free to despise Biden but it would help your argument if it wasn’t just an instinctive vague Both Sides claim.

    It’s possible to point to specific statements and actions by Trump that arguably exacerbated the situation. That’s why he gets blamed.

    Victor (4959fb)

  13. Did I miss what Dr. Brix would have done differently?

    This smacks of blatant Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

    whembly (3b5b58)

  14. You’d think the 25th Amendment could also work but a president’s cabinet VP are usually even more gutless lackeys than the Senate.

    With impeachment, you have about half of the votes in the president’s own party. With the 25th you have all his own party, and hand-picked at that. Seems even harder.

    Now, if you read the Amendment, it says that Congress can choose some other body than the Cabinet. Hopefully not the DNC or RNC, but perhaps some group of Congresspeople selected ex officio, or maybe the nation’s governors.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  15. This smacks of blatant Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

    Anotehr reason shy quitting/getting fired and speaking out is a better idea. This does seem self-serving.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  16. The same people who are saying Trump murdered thousands, or thousands of lives could have been saved without Trump being in office, are the same ones denying Cuomo has any liability.

    That’s not entirely true, as I would blame both Trump and Cuomo and would have trouble deciding who was the bigger ah0le.

    Trump was told in late January that this thing was going to be worse than the Spanish Flu, that the Chinese were lying, and they he should stop all entry from China, or people who had been in China. Three days later he made a tepid response, and soon lost all chance at control. Sure, the Dems trashed him for what little he did, but they were going to that no matter what; it should not have been a consideration.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  17. In Trump’s defense, it appears that the vaccine news of mid-November might have been delayed for political reasons and Biden is trying to take credit for vaccines having been created. Then again, Trump mostly failed to frack it up completely, with no real plan for getting people vaccinated (the largely abandoned CDC guidelines weren’t very helpful).

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  18. @16 tbf Kevin, nothing short of a total international travel ban (akin to New Zealand’s) would’ve had any impact. And no one in their right mind would’ve supported that in January.

    whembly (3b5b58)

  19. Dunno what Birx would have done differently but I’d like to have seen some coordinated messaging from the President. First comment was “this is their new hoax.” Clintonesque parsing of what Trump meant by “this,” aside the fact is turned it into a political and cultural fight immediately instead of taking it seriously. Then he started a bizarre series of equivocations and flat out lies. When it served him he mocked and made fun of the CDC recommendations, when it served him otherwise, he called himself a “Wartime President” and at least pretended to take it seriously. Instead of getting in front of it and leading he exploited it to troll the media and generate buzz about himself. This hurts not only the country but his own legacy, because operation warp speed was quite an achievment. As for Birx and Fauci, agree they should have resigned.

    JRH (52aed3)

  20. @17 …again, not sure I totally understand this “no real plan for getting people vaccinated” spiel. Literally Biden’s plans on this was Trump’s original plan.

    Wanna know why? The federal government doesn’t have the means and infrastructure to administer the vaccines. Or, put it another way, if they do… the powers-that-be chose not to do it federally.

    Hence, the original “plan” was largely based on the military and other assets delivering the vaccines to the states with a CDC framework plan and then the states and local healthcare providers determines how best to orchestrate the administrations of these vaccines.

    Wanna know how I know this? Because I work for a large healthcare provider in Missouri where I’m supporting the intake scheduling systems and reporting requirements for the region… a system that HAS to talk to other different providers so that we know that if you scheduled a date at our institution, but chose to go to another institution to get the jab, we’d know about it. That’s the sort of complex logistics we’re dealing with. This was all done primarily without any meaningful collaboration from the federal government (besides facilitating the vaccine shipments).

    Yes, I know some states flubbed this process more than others… but that’s a feature, not a bug in our system of governance and those voters can hold their officials accountable.

    I mean, I guess the Feds could open up all the VA hospital/clinics/government buildings and execute FEMA disaster plans nationwide that builds M*A*S*H tents while opening up military bases to provide manpower. I’m just not sure that would’ve been a better than what we currently have today. The vaccines are being distributed and administered at a respected rate… yes, even in MAGA country like Missouri.

    I’d wager good money that by mid-Summer, we’d achieve herd-immunity and the only concerns afterwards is if there are any strains we’d need boosters shots.

    whembly (0ae2ca)

  21. The crime of Trump was making virus mitigation based on personal responsibility a political thing. Mask wearing, social distancing shouldn’t be conservative vs liberal.

    It would have been nice if we had done testing better early, but that’s more on the CDC than Trump.

    Appalled (1a17de)

  22. Florida has been open since September and CA has been closed nearly the entire pandemoniumic.
    Numbers are the about the same.
    Birx is CA, Trump is FLA. Its a tie.
    I’d be willing to say Fauci is NY and Trump is again FLA in which case Trump wins

    steveg (02d731)

  23. “The same people who are saying Trump murdered thousands, or thousands of lives could have been saved without Trump being in office, are the same ones denying Cuomo has any liability.”

    I’ve said the first and I’ve never said the second. Would be thrilled to see Cuomo recalled.

    Davethulhu (6ba00b)

  24. The crime of Trump was making virus mitigation based on personal responsibility a political thing.

    And framing Covid as a political plot against him, which is what my elderly Fox-watching neighbor still believes. She won’t get a vaccination because the Trumpist media told her that Covid is basically just a version of the flu, like we have every year, and encouraged a deep suspicion of “experts” and “science” in scare quotes. And people Laura Ingraham peddled the notion that Trump’s “sharp instincts” were more reliable than actual expertise — an idea that started with Trump himself.

    There really are people who believe that whatever Trump did was always faultless, and anything bad was someone else’s doing. My neighbor is one of those people.

    She thinks Trump should be heartily praised as the real force behind the development of vaccines, since he boasts that he was. But she has imbibed the Covid denialism and vaccine rejectionism of the Trumpist right, so her belief is that “the scientists” took Trump’s great initiative in a dastardly direction. That doesn’t really square the circle, but it’s an interesting theory.

    Radegunda (f4d5c0)

  25. @16 tbf Kevin, nothing short of a total international travel ban (akin to New Zealand’s) would’ve had any impact. And no one in their right mind would’ve supported that in January.

    What part of “worse than the Spanish flu” did you miss? No one would have accepted it from TRUMP, perhaps, but if his people had stood with him shoulder to shoulder it would have worked long enough.

    The problem was that Trump’s business interests lived and died by the tourist industry, so he was all “what shark?!”

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  26. whembly (3b5b58) — 3/29/2021 @ 2:24 pm

    Did I miss what Dr. Brix would have done differently?

    She wouldn’t have pushed so hard for a cure or a vaccine. But also she did do warnings to state and local governments. She’s saying had she issued a national warning then they wouldn’t have re-opened.

    This smacks of blatant Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

    You’d think there was some place on earth where they did prevent a second wave by continuing lockdowns and shutdowns for a whole year until now. It’s easy to overestimate the results of things that weren’t done or didn’t happen.

    They did prevent a second wave in New Zealand and Australia but that was by virtually total isolation after easing lockdowns.

    Maybe she’s thinking about China? Communist China is said to have prevented a second wave through lockdowns, but they were draconian, and it is not easy to tell what they really did. In addition to the lockdowns, they cut off a lot of travel.

    Anyone from China who now goes abroad must take the Chinese vaccine if they want to come back (this was so, semi-secretly, even before they approved it – they did want it internationally certified in order to sell it or use it for diplomatic advantage so they did some somewhat auditable trials) and anyone new who comes into China, must take it also (and only the Chinese vaccine will do!) or they isolate and get tested by fecal samples. (because there was this community test developed – checking sewage – it detects an outbreak about a week before doctors in hospitals begin to notice it – and China applied that to individuals!)

    As for Donald Trump, true he wanted to minimize the danger – because he didn’t want to destroy the economy, but he also wanted to put an end to the epidemic for real. His biggest mistake was getting diverted into focusing almost entirely on vaccines and away from cures – although vaccines are only a prevention and on;y protect those who were vaccinated. Even after he got cured with the Regeneron antibodies, he was persuaded to abandon his idea for getting it to everyone. After the election it got approved for emergency use by the FDA (but only before hospitalization) but is greatly underutilized and unadvertised so even though there’s not enough what there is doesn’t get used.

    Now that ignoring of neutralizing monoclonal antibodies is something that could be responsible for 100,000 deaths maybe. The Regeneron antibodies still work – 50% as well – against the South African variant but the Eli Lilly one does not. That could be changed but Joe Biden and his administration are so wedded to not interfering that very little is getting done in pushing any changes forward.

    Sammy Finkelman (6975b4)

  27. Radegunda (f4d5c0) — 3/29/2021 @ 7:48 pm

    And framing Covid as a political plot against him,

    The plot came later, to discourage belief in any vaccine or treatment that came out before Election Day. The companies involved, therefore, didn’t even try.

    She thinks Trump should be heartily praised as the real force behind the development of vaccines, since he boasts that he was. But she has imbibed the Covid denialism and vaccine rejectionism of the Trumpist right, so her belief is that “the scientists” took Trump’s great initiative in a dastardly direction. That doesn’t really square the circle, but it’s an interesting theory.

    At the rally at the Capitol that took place on January 6 while others were storming the Capitol – the rally that went into the memory hole – many speakers were speaking against the vaccine.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/26/us/far-right-extremism-anti-vaccine.html

    On Jan. 6, while rioters advanced on the Capitol, numerous leading figures in the anti-vaccination movement were onstage nearby, holding their own rally to attack both the election results and Covid-19 vaccinations.

    Events overshadowed their protest, but at least one outspoken activist, Dr. Simone Gold of Beverly Hills, Calif., was charged with breaching the Capitol. She called her arrest an attack on free speech. She was one of several doctors who appeared in a video last year spreading misleading claims about the coronavirus. Mr. Trump shared a version of the video, which Facebook, YouTube and Twitter removed after millions of viewers watched it….It is unclear where Mr. Trump will fit into the vaccine battle. The former president, who has been vaccinated, endorsed getting the shot recently, provoking some disbelief in QAnon and other chatrooms. “I would recommend it, and I would recommend it to a lot of people that don’t want to get it, and a lot of those people voted for me frankly,” he said in an interview with Fox News.

    Sammy Finkelman (6975b4)

  28. Florida COVID numbers face new scrutiny

    New research published earlier this month in the American Journal of Public Health argues that Florida is undercounting the number of people who died from COVID-19 by thousands of cases, casting new doubt on claims that Gov. Ron DeSantis navigated the coronavirus pandemic successfully.
    ……..
    The impact of the pandemic in Florida “is significantly greater than the official COVID-19 data suggest,” the researchers wrote. They came to that conclusion by comparing the number of estimated deaths for a six-month period in 2020, from March to September, to the actual number of deaths that occurred, a figure known as “excess deaths” because they exceed the estimate.
    …….
    In the case of Florida, the researchers say, 4,924 excess deaths should have been counted as resulting from COVID-19 but for the most part were ruled as having been caused by something else, thus lowering Florida’s coronavirus fatality count. That’s possible because people who die from COVID-19 often have comorbidities, such as diabetes and asthma. That leaves some discretion for medical examiners, who have sometimes struggled with conflicting science and been subject to political pressures during the pandemic.

    In Florida, the state’s 25 district medical examiners are directly appointed by the governor. Last spring, the DeSantis administration was accused of trying to keep those medical examiners from releasing complete coronavirus data. (In August, the state said coronavirus deaths no longer required certification from a medical examiner.)
    ……..
    Florida already has the fourth-highest total number of deaths in the country from COVID-19, but it is also the country’s second most populous state. It has the second-oldest population in the United States, a significant factor in a pandemic that tends to affect the elderly more severely than young people.
    ……
    Excess deaths were at 21 percent nationwide for 2020, according to the CDC; Florida saw a 15.5 percent rate of excess deaths for the period that Tatar studied. California’s excess death rate was also 15 percent, despite that state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, having enacted much more stringent restrictions than did DeSantis in Florida.
    …….
    The question isn’t whether deaths occurred, but how states counted them. Research conducted by Andrew Stokes of Boston University has shown that in pro-Trump sections of the country where elected officials tended to take the pandemic less seriously, excess deaths were less likely to be attributed to the coronavirus.

    Stokes told Yahoo News that what was true for the U.S. was also true for Florida, with heavily Democratic counties like Miami-Dade, Osceola and Hillsborough tending to report all or nearly all excess deaths as COVID-19 deaths. By contrast, most of the counties where COVID-19 death underreporting was especially high — Franklin, Wakulla, Taylor and Sumter — are Republican strongholds.
    ……..
    Related:

    Cases in Florida, a National COVID Bellwether, Are Rising

    Scientists view Florida — the state furthest along in lifting restrictions, reopening society and welcoming tourists — as a bellwether for the nation.

    If recent trends there are any indication, the rest of the country may be in trouble.

    The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida has been steadily rising, though hospitalizations and deaths are still down. Over the past week, the state has averaged nearly 5,000 cases per day, an increase of 8% from its average two weeks earlier.
    …….
    “Wherever we have exponential growth, we have the expectation of a surge in cases, and a surge in cases will lead to hospitalizations and deaths,” said Bill Hanage, a public health researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

    Florida has had one of the country’s most confusing and inefficient vaccination campaigns and has fully vaccinated about 15% of its population — well below what top states, like New Mexico and South Dakota, have managed. Still, immunization of older people and other high-risk individuals may blunt the number of Florida’s deaths somewhat. The state has announced it will start offering the vaccine to anyone older than 18 on April 5.

    At least some of the cases in Florida are the result of the state’s open invitation to tourists. Hordes of students on spring break have descended on the state since mid-February. Rowdy crowds on Miami Beach this month forced officials to impose an 8 p.m. curfew, although many people still flouted the rules.
    ……..

    Rip Murdock (d2a2a8)

  29. @Rip Murdock.

    quoting Yahoo News:

    New research published earlier this month in the American Journal of Public Health argues that Florida is undercounting the number of people who died from COVID-19 by thousands of cases,

    But that happens everywhere.

    https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/coronavirus-excess-deaths-tracker

    Here are general statistics:

    https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/excess-mortality-across-countries-in-2020

    . Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Latvia and Norway experienced fewer deaths in 2020 according to our analysis.

    Maybe fewer car accidents, less elective surgery – what this means is that the true number of Covid related deaths is greater than the excess mortality.

    casting new doubt on claims that Gov. Ron DeSantis navigated the coronavirus pandemic successfully.

    It doesn’t unless you can show that the undercount is greater in Florida.

    Now some countries actually show a lower number of deaths.
    ……..

    Sammy Finkelman (6975b4)

  30. @28 Rip, you left out quite a bit in that article:
    n the same article:

    Tatar’s findings have not been universally accepted. Lauren Rossen, a statistician at the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who has analyzed excess deaths, told Yahoo News that she saw nothing exceptionally suspicious in the state’s excess death numbers.

    “Florida doesn’t stand out to me,” she said.

    Other critics of Tatar’s findings described Florida as neither a glowing success nor an unmitigated disaster but rather a state that has handled the pandemic with some successes and some failures, with the excess death data reflecting that mixed record.

    Jason Salemi, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida, told Yahoo News that it was wrong to assume that every excess death during the period in question should be attributed directly to those who contracted the coronavirus, especially since people who were never infected may still have been fearful of seeking care for other conditions while the pandemic surged and hospitals filled with COVID-19 patients.

    “You could’ve never gotten the coronavirus, delayed needed health care, and died from diabetes-related complications. That’s still indirectly tied to the pandemic,” Salemi told Yahoo News, describing Florida’s statistics regarding all-cause excess deaths and the coronavirus as “kind of middle-of-the-pack.”

    Excess deaths were at 21 percent nationwide for 2020, according to the CDC; Florida saw a 15.5 percent rate of excess deaths for the period that Tatar studied. California’s excess death rate was also 15 percent, despite that state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, having enacted much more stringent restrictions than did DeSantis in Florida.

    Salemi runs a Florida-focused coronavirus dashboard and frequently talks to state epidemiologists. “I don’t think there’s anything egregious going on with the data,” he told Yahoo News. “I would know. I am just constantly in these data.”

    Weinberger, the Yale epidemiologist, also said that his analysis indicated that Florida’s “gap” between COVID-19 and excess deaths was about average.

    Not really trying to defend Florida per se, but the article shows that different professionals are having different interpretation. So, is Florida purposely undercounting their deaths? Maybe. Do we know for sure? I don’t think so.

    It does highlight the need to have a uniform standard way of counting these sort of things to have meaningful comparison between the states. The question is: What are those parameters and how does it get enforced?

    whembly (ae0eb5)


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