Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, called on top administration officials Monday to pursue “much more aggressive action” against the virus as President Trump continues to downplay its severity.
“We are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic … leading to increasing mortality,” Birx wrote in a report shared with top White House and agency officials, obtained by the Washington Post. “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.”
As the United States heads into winter having recorded more than 9 million cases and 230,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, Birx’s report warns that testing is “flat or declining” in many areas where cases are spiking and therefore it is increased community spread, not increased testing, that is leading the nation to record more than 100,000 new cases a day recently.
“Cases are rapidly rising in nearly 30 percent of all USA counties, the highest number of county hotspots we have seen with this pandemic,” the report said. “Half of the United States is in the red or orange zone for cases despite flat or declining testing.”
Birx called for “much more aggressive action from messaging, to testing, to surging personnel around the country before the crisis point.” She added that it is “essential at this time point” to have “consistent messaging about uniform use of masks, physical distancing and hand washing with profound limitation on indoor gatherings especially with family and friends.”
“This is about empowerment [sic] Americans with the knowledge and data for decision-making to prevent community spread and save lives,” the report added.
Birx’s report contradicts President Trump, who has said the U.S. is “rounding the turn” and that the country’s increased case count is due to the high number of tests being performed.
Similarly, Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told the Washington Post on Friday that the country is “in for a whole lot of hurt,” as winter will force people indoors where the virus spreads more easily. Trump has since hinted at a campaign rally that he will fire Fauci after Election Day.
Birx’s daily reports reveal a conflict between the administration’s internal reports and the president’s public messaging. An unnamed administration official told the Post Birx “feels like she’s being ignored” by the administration as she sounds alarms that a difficult winter lies ahead.
Officials told the Post Birx is frustrated with new medical adviser Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no infectious-disease experience, who has called for healthy people to be allowed to return to daily activities without restrictions in order to quicken herd immunity and boost the economy. Birx has challenged the doctor, who the president often looks to for guidance, on his views in task force meetings, arguing that Atlas’ plan to reopen society without restrictions would lead to thousands of deaths.
White House communications director Alyssa Farah pushed back against the report’s claims that the administration has not adequately responded to the pandemic.
She said the White House has “significantly increased” the U.S. national stockpile to ensure the country has enough personal protective equipment; bought and distributed 150 million coronavirus tests to the most vulnerable populations, including nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and Native American tribal areas; and dispatched special teams to states and nursing homes with the most cases.
The administration is also working to “safely rush therapeutics” to the sick and develop vaccines, she added.
“We are working around-the-clock to safely treat the virus and ultimately defeat it,” Farah said.