Deborah Birx, the Trump administration’s coronavirus response coordinator, said in an interview broadcast on Sunday that misinformation and denial about the coronavirus pandemic had been rife in the White House.
Early last spring, there were people working in the White House who denied the severity of the disease. “There were people who definitely believed that this was a hoax,” she said in the interview, on the CBS news program “Face the Nation.”
That disbelief was echoed in many pockets across the United States, because at the onset of the pandemic, public officials did not fully describe the spectrum of disease that the virus could unleash. “And so they saw people get Covid and be fine,” she explained.
Incomplete messaging, she said, had devastating consequences. While not specifically naming President Trump, who initially labeled the pandemic a “hoax,” Dr. Birx noted that “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 out on the road, because I wasn’t censored on the road.”
In the summer and fall, especially, Dr. Birx traveled to several states and met with governors and local officials to talk about preventative measures, including mask wearing and social distancing.
She described the flow of information to Mr. Trump about the virus as chaotic and uncoordinated and said that, to this day, she did not know the source of some data he was receiving. “I saw the president presenting graphs that I never made,” she said.
Dr. Birx came under intense criticism from public health experts for being a part of the Trump apparatus promoting misleading and sometime completely erroneous material. She was pilloried for not countering the president’s misinformation on the severity of the pandemic, on his promotion of certain bogus treatments and for not adequately addressing the conflicting messages and approaches delivered from the White House as the virus raged out of control last spring and then spread throughout the country over the summer and fall.
She said that whenever she had a significant disagreement with coronavirus policy and practice announced by the White House, within days, a negative story about it would appear.
“I was not able to do national press,” she said. “The other thing that was very important to me is I was not going to go outside of the chain of command.”
In the interview, she said she had little exposure to Mr. Trump and did not know if he read the regular reports that she submitted to the vice president, Mike Pence.
She said she plans to announce her retirement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention within four to six weeks.