In what has become a daily briefing to the President and his advisers, Birx, a highly respected expert on global health, has acted as an explanator, walking journalists and the public through the data behind the federal recommendations for to slow the spread of the virus.
Just days after a new 30-day extension to the guidelines started, Birx said the data showed there weren’t enough people following them. The recommendations, first released on March 16, encourage people not to gather in groups of more than 10 people and avoid dining in restaurants or bars.
“When we said it was serious more than 16 days ago,” said Birx, noting that people who fell ill contracted the virus after the guidelines were first published.
But the president, standing near the White House podium where Birx was speaking, intervened.
“Deborah, don’t you refer to just a few states because many of those states are flat,” said Trump, referring to states where the virus had not taken off dramatically and which had caused the National “curve” of deaths.
Birx replied that it was true that some states were flat but that an epidemic in a new city would spoil this.
Trump has been criticized for playing down the epidemic in its infancy. He said very early on that the virus was under control and repeatedly compared it to seasonal flu.
Last week, he argued that the time had come to reopen the US economy, complaining that the cure was worse than the problem and setting a target for economic revival by Easter April 12.
On Sunday, he announced that he had abandoned the plan after Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, convinced him that more than 2 million people in the United States could die without other strict measures.
But after a few days of adopting a more somber tone, the president seemed saddened on Thursday that Birx is focusing on the areas where these measures have not been followed up enough rather than on the states in which the virus has not lifted off.
“It’s hard to blame the flat-liners for not doing a good job,” said Trump, sparking Birx to express emotionally, “No, no, I don’t mean that! “
Trump made it clear that he didn’t want headlines suggesting that we weren’t doing enough, and he continued to repeatedly explain what he thought Birx meant while standing the scene.
“She wasn’t talking about the average of everything, she was talking about an individual state,” said Trump.
“Our states in general – it’s like a lot of different countries everywhere – we have them, a lot of these” countries “are doing phenomenal work. They’re really flat, and I think that’s what you meant. “
Birx simply replied, “Thank you, sir.”
She added that, however, not all American states had followed the guidelines.
“We know what can be done. And others do, and most people in the United States do. It is our communities, it is all Americans who must make these changes, ”she said.
Trump weighed again.
“We did, I think on average, really phenomenal as a country. “
The death toll from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, was 5,821 on Thursday evening, with more than 241,000 positive cases in the 50 states.