Dr. Birx not playing Sanjay Gupta’s game on Trump response to pandemic

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White House coronavirus task force lead member Dr. Deborah Birx refused to take the bait when asked during a CNN interview this week whether President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus crisis was “a failure.”

Speaking with CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, she was asked bluntly, “250,000 people have died. …  You can compare it to other countries. South Korea, 500 people have died. Was this a failure in this country? I mean did you expect it to go this way?”

She abstained from answering with a simple yes/no, choosing instead to admit that the outcome has been something “none of us wanted.”

“I always worry when we have an outcome that none of us want and none of us wanted, you know, did we miss a communication? Did we say it the wrong way?” she replied.

“And I think really that’s part of the reason why I went out into the states, is really understand what they were hearing when we were speaking, and really being in a dialogue and a partnership to really understand how we could do this better together.”

A total of over 1.368 million men, women, and children worldwide have died from the virus. Less than a fifth of those deaths have occurred in the United States.

A plurality of coronavirus deaths in the United States has occurred in nursing homes located in blue states run by Democrat governors such as Andrew Cuomo.

“People in long-term care facilities make up 8 percent of coronavirus cases, but 45 percent of all COVID-19 deaths,” the Kaiser Family Foundation reported in September.

Listen to Birx’s answers below:

Of course, Gupta didn’t ask Birx about nursing homes. Nor did he reference President Donald Trump’s travel bans and his successful vaccine-procurement operation.

“Was the lack of testing and the continued inadequate testing the original sin here?” he asked next.

But he already had an answer in mind. Since last spring, he’s been claiming the coronavirus death rate in the United States has been especially high because of an alleged lack of testing.

“We acted late. We did not test adequately,” he told fellow CNN host Jake Tapper back in April.

Birx, a 40-year veteran of the federal government’s healthcare systems, replied to Gupta’s line of questioning by pointing out that quantity (i.e., the number of tests) isn’t everything.

“It’s not only the number of tests and the type of test, but using that in the optimal way so that we can get the most answers for the quantity that we have,” she said.

“Certainly I’m a big proponent of testing and expanding testing. I actually think testing alone is a public health intervention, and if you are constantly out testing people and isolating the positives, then you have a very different outcome.”

As an example, she pointed to the relatively low infection rates in universities.

“If you look at the universities that had mandatory testing, they ended up with less than 1 percent of their student body infected. Those that did testing the way we did it in America primarily focused on symptomatics, contact tracing, isolating, and quarantining. They had 8 to 10 percent of their student body infected,” she said.

Last month the Centers for Disease Control made headlines for slamming those public schools across the states that have adopted mandatory testing.

“It is unethical and illegal to test someone who does not want to be tested, including students whose parents or guardians do not want them to be tested,” the CDC said.

Gupta then asked whether there was ever “a strategic decision not to test as much.”

His implication was that President Donald Trump had stymied testing efforts. It’s an implication rooted in theories that took root at CNN over the summer after the president noted that more testing means more positives.

“I think there was not a strategic decision not to test,” Birx replied, putting to rest the theory.

“There was a strategic decision to test more until a particular time frame in the late summer, when you saw the CDC guidance change to symptomatic testing,” she continued.

“From there, I really, I can’t tell you how strongly I believe that symptomatic testing and contact tracing is only, is less than half of the equation. And unless you get the other half of the equation, you’re not going to stop community spread. And so that did put a pale on testing for a number of weeks.”

These remarks were made during an interview with Gupta that hasn’t aired in full yet. However, CNN began releasing snippets from the interview Friday morning.

Vivek Saxena

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