Former White House COVID coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx has a new tell-all book.
In it, she details how Trump initially agreed with her recommendation to shut down most of the US.
He also turned on her afterward and rarely sought her advice, she wrote.
The severity of COVID-19 first struck Donald Trump after an older, wealthy New York real estate developer friend got sick and was fighting for his life in the president’s hometown hospital, Dr. Deborah Birx writes in a new memoir.
“Suddenly, this pandemic was not abstract to him, but very real and personal,” Birx reports in “Silent Invasion: The Untold Story of the Trump Administration, COVID-19, and Preventing the Next Pandemic Before It’s Too Late.”
As the global pandemic took off, Trump momentarily wrestled with his own mortality upon learning that Crown Acquisitions founder Stanley Chera was deteriorating rapidly at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, New York.
“I know that hospital. What’s going on there, it’s horrible,” Trump said after reviewing reports of the rising case counts in March 2020.
“President Trump described Chera as a friend and began publicly remarking on how vicious COVID-19 could be,” Birx wrote. “I saw this as the president’s recognizing that him not just in age — Chera was only a few years older — but also in similar economic circumstances couldn’t count on wealth as a form of immunity.”
Trump initially showed an aversion to adopting a strategy for slowing COVID-19’s spread. But the resistance melted away, Birx said, as she laid out the potentially catastrophic outlook of not acting decisively.
Birx was trying to win Trump over on locking down the US for another 30 days to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. When they spoke, the White House already had announced to the country that they needed “15 days to slow the spread.”
“I’m certain that we’re going to have fifty, a hundred, and potentially a thousand Elmhurst Hospitals,” Birx said in her pitch to extend the shelter-in-place recommendations. “We’re going to see city after city looking like what New York does right now. It will only get worse.”
The optics of it all, she said, is what hit Trump the hardest.
“Do you mean there will be body bags there? Refrigerated trucks? Just like at Elmhurst?” Trump asked as she presented him with projections of up to 200,000 COVID-related deaths by May 2020.
“Yes. Mr. President. Hundreds of hospitals,” Birx said of the dire prognosis.
After briefly consulting with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Birx Trump agreed to tread carefully said for another month.
Chera died on April 11, 2020 at the age of 77.
“What mattered today was that the president — perhaps surprisingly to many — had done the right thing,” Birx wrote of Trump agreeing to the lockdown.
Trump’s tone toward Birx changed after the lockdown was over
In the book, Birx gave credit for agreeing to a voluntary nationwide shut down where the federal government encouraged people to avoid unnecessary travel or gathering in groups. But she said he turned on her soon after it had begun.
“We will never shut down the country again. Never,” he told her a few days into lockdown, in early April 2020.
“His pupils hardened into points of anger,” Birx writes of the confrontation, adding, “I felt the blood drain from my face, and I shivered slightly.”
Birx remembers the decision to shut down the country as the last time that Trump appeared to take her advice or even acknowledge her. She said that she didn’t know what changed Trump’s mind, but later in the book she wrote that she suspected that the president had already been speaking with Dr. Scott Atlas.
Trump brought Atlas to the White House in August 2020 and in her book Birx writes frequently about how the two of them clashed. Birx wanted strong mitigation measures that included testing, virtual work, social distancing, isolating, and masking, but Atlas wanted the US to focus only on older, vulnerable adults and to worry less about younger people getting infected.
Atlas had previously worked as a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative-leaning think tank based at Stanford University. He was not an infectious disease expert but told Birx that his approach was what the president wanted.
“I became a nonentity,” Birx writes of her relationship with Trump. “He appeared to find nothing useful in what I had to offer.”
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