On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, is testifying in front of Congress alongside the head of the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration and a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services. Noticeably missing among those testifying is Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
The question is why?
Despite the fact that coronavirus cases and deaths are steadily increasing across much of America, the last public Task Force briefing, which was once a daily occurrence, hasn’t been held in two months. Similarly, Dr. Birx is conspicuously absent from media appearances, especially on outlets where she once was a mainstay. Her low profile also comes following reports that the Task Force has been sidelined as President Trump focuses more of his attention on the economic recovery of a nation reeling from weeks of shelter-in places orders.
Perhaps the Task Force’s waning influence also results from recent decisions by Trump to hold political rallies despite the advice of his experts. Reportedly Dr. Birx, along with Dr. Fauci, expressed concerns about the President’s recent rally in Tulsa at the 19,000 seat BOK Center. After the event, the Tulsa Fire Department reported the rally was only attended by 6,200 supporters. Most of the attendees were not wearing face masks, raising concerns that the event would be a “super-spreader” event that exposed many attendees to the contagious virus. In fact, just prior to the rally, six members of the President’s own team tested positive for the coronavirus, raising even more concerns regarding the risk related to rallies. Nonetheless, on Tuesday the President is holding another large rally in an Arizona megachurch, sparking additional worries that the President is putting politics over safety.
Approximately 2.3 million Americans have fallen ill from the coronavirus and nearly 120,000 have died since the start of the pandemic. Just as concerning, several states are reporting a substantial increase in cases. Florida, Texas, and Arizona have become new epicenters in the spread of the virus, yet they are not alone in experiencing increased case numbers. California, Georgia, South Carolina, and numerous other states across the country are also seeing a rise in cases, the spread of which is being attributed to multiple factors, including more relaxed social distancing practices, the recent wave of social protests, as well as the start of the summer holiday season.
In a joint statement to Congress, Fauci, Dr. Robert Redfield (Director of the Centers for Disease Control), Stephen Hahn, (Commissioner of the Food and Drugs Administration), and Admiral Brett. Giroir, (Assistant Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services), provided a detailed update on the numerous federal initiatives undertaken to combat the coronavirus. Conspicuously included in the statement was a reference to ramping up testing; a statement that stood in stark contrast to the President’s comments on Saturday night about “slowing down” testing.
“Because of the Administration’s success in rapidly scaling up of the testing ecosystem, states will be fully equipped to conduct more COVID-19 tests per capita each month than most countries have tested cumulatively to this date.”
Yet despite the optimistic testimony of Fauci and others noting that the coming weeks will be ”critical” to stem the surge of cases, significant questions about the Trump administration’s coronavirus response remains. Why, despite his advisors’ counsel, does the President feel justified in holding mass rallies? Are there real efforts to accelerate the nation’s testing capacity despite the President’s comments that suggest otherwise? What other measures are being explored by the White House to slow a rapidly spreading pandemic that has yet to subside, even as a first wave of infections continues? And perhaps most of all, what does the coronavirus task force suggest might be coming next?
Dr. Birx, by virtue of her role as the coordinator of the White House Task Force, has valuable insight into these kinds of questions. The fact that she is nowhere to be found is not only troubling, but a dangerous denial of transparency that the nation deserves. For a President who has notoriously instigated cheers of “lock her up” regarding his formal presidential rival, now is the time to importantly prove that with respect to Dr. Birx, she is free to speak.
America is listening.