White House official in stark virus warning
Dr Deborah L. Birx, who has carefully straddled the line between science and politics as she helps lead the Trump administration’s coronavirus response, delivered a stark private warning on Monday, telling White House officials that the pandemic is entering a new and “deadly phase” that demands a more aggressive approach.
The warning, contained in a private memo to White House officials as the nation’s daily coronavirus caseload has broken records and approached 100,000, amounted to a direct contradiction of President Trump’s repeated — and inaccurate — assertions that the pandemic is “rounding the corner”.
In the memo, Dr Birx suggested that Trump and his advisers were spending too much time focusing on preventing lockdowns and not enough time on controlling the virus.
“We are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic,” Dr Birx wrote, adding: “This is not about lockdowns — it hasn’t been about lockdowns since March or April. It’s about an aggressive balanced approach that is not being implemented.”
The memo’s existence was reported earlier by The Washington Post. A top White House official who has seen it confirmed its contents.
The blunt message was a striking one for Dr Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, who at least in public has taken care not to criticise the president or his administration. Her sharp critique reflects a growing concern among government scientists and public health experts that the worst of the pandemic is yet to come.
Dr Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, has also been offering unusually blunt assessments, and is once again in Trump’s cross-hairs as a result. At a campaign rally early Monday morning in Miami, the president attacked the news media for its emphasis on the virus, which prompted the crowd to chant: “Fire Fauci! Fire Fauci!”
To that, Trump responded: “Don’t tell anybody, but let me wait until a little bit after the election. I appreciate the advice.”
Dr Fauci has Civil Service protections, and it would be extremely difficult for the president to remove him, though Trump recently signed an executive order in an attempt to give himself more leeway to fire federal workers.
Dr Birx, a respected AIDS researcher, was named the coronavirus response coordinator in March. The job has required her to manage the work of the White House coronavirus task force.
New York Times News Service