Tension mounts between White House and CDC as Birx criticizes virus tracking


In particular, Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the President’s working group on coronaviruses, has become increasingly critical of the CDC, making it clear at recent meetings that she is more than frustrated with the agency , according to two senior administration officials. Specifically, Birx believes that the way the CDC collects data on the coronavirus is outdated, resulting in inaccurate and delayed figures for both virus cases and deaths.

Birx expressed agitation at recent task force meetings, where at least one conversation between her and CDC director Robert Redfield has heated, according to a source close to the task force. Birx and Redfield have known each other for decades, thanks to their HIV research work together. And while Birx defended Redfield to peers earlier this year over the CDC’s defective test kits, his tone toward him has changed dramatically in recent weeks, according to several officials and a source close to the task force.

Redfield was forced to apologize to administration officials last week after media reports of a proposed CDC guidelines for the reopening of America were released to the media. The 68-page document describes a detailed approach to how states, businesses, and individuals can safely return to normality, and are much more strict and detailed than the White House roadmap to a return to normal, according to a CNN review.

CDC directives set aside by Trump administration set much stricter roadmap for reopening

On Thursday, the CDC released just 6 pages of charts labeled “decision trees” as an updated guide. After spending “countless hours” on the draft recommendations, which they said was specifically requested by Dr. Birx, two senior CDC officials told CNN that the White House decision to suspend it for the moment in favor of a 6-page plan has only added to the growing frustration with Birx within the CDC.

The tension between Birx and the CDC was first reported by the Washington Post.

A senior administration official told CNN that the lean guidelines should not be viewed as a rebuke from Redfield or the CDC inside the White House, because a whole national strategy has never been on the table.

“It makes no sense for a cinema in a rural town in Tennessee with zero cases of COVID to be subject to the same restrictions as a theater in New York,” said the official.

Yet the limited guidelines combined with Birx’s dust with Redfield have pointed out to many senior officials the level of Birx’s influence in the White House, particularly with Trump.

Even though the president publicly berated Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease specialist, he remains fully supportive of Birx, officials told CNN. “She is charming and listens to her. She found a way to put an end to her bad ideas without making him feel diminished, unlike Fauci and some others, “said a senior administration official. The president has repeatedly expressed how big he thinks Birx is, said the official, “it is clear that she is listening.”

Since Birx first joined the task force as coordinator, there has been great skepticism about it among senior CDC officials who spoke to CNN.

A senior official, who has known Birx since she was director of division of Global HIV / AIDS at the CDC from 2005 to 2014, said Birx has always “loved being in the fore.”

“Since starting her role in the White House, Debbie Birx has been out for Debbie Birx,” said the official.

In interviews with CNN in recent weeks, CDC officials have expressed disappointment that Birx has not done more to correct some of the erroneous information that Trump has touted in numerous coronavirus news briefings. “As a scientist, when you stand in front of all this, it does not help your credibility,” said the same official, describing the prevailing opinion of CDC officials about Birx.

Officials concerned about CDC counting systems

Be that as it may, Birx’s criticisms of the CDC’s data collection system do not seem groundless. According to healthcare industry sources familiar with the system, there are many flaws in the way the CDC tracks coronavirus, including that it is unable to track symptoms in real time.

In some cases with flu-like illnesses, primary care physicians who receive patients do not receive and process the information for a week, making contact tracing almost impossible. In addition, these sources note that state public health services are still using outdated technologies such as fax machines to transmit information.

As of May 16, CDC data still indicated 60,299 deaths and was last updated on May 15, while the number of CNN deaths in the United States, fueled by data from Johns Hopkins University , amounted to over 87,000.

The CDC says states report at different rates. Currently, 63% of all deaths in the United States are reported within 10 days of the date of death, but there are significant variations between states, the agency said.

“This is part of the problem, we don’t know how far there is a lag, but there is certainly a lag,” a CDC official told CNN.

The CDC has been working on a major data modernization initiative to “beautify the system”, primarily by giving local and state health departments the ability to collect data electronically in real time, federal officials said.

The system, which would help digitize data using modern technology, will not be operational until later this year, said an official.


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