Fact-Checking Deborah Birx's Claim That Trump Is to Blame for 130,000 COVID Deaths

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Dr. Deborah Birx testified before the House Select Coronavirus Subcommittee this month, and according to released excerpts of her testimony, she made a rather outlandish claim.

According to Birx, President Trump was “distracted” by the presidential campaign and ignored recommendations to curb the pandemic. She argues that as many as 130,000 lives could have been saved had the administration promoted mask-wearing and social distancing in the early days of the pandemic.

“I believe if we had fully implemented the mask mandates, the reduction in indoor dining, the getting friends and family to understand the risk of gathering in private homes, and we had increased testing, that we probably could have decreased fatalities into the 30% less to 40% less range,” Birx testified.

Birx was also asked if Trump did everything he could to handle the pandemic. “No,” she replied. “And I’ve said that to the White House in general, and I believe I was very clear to the president in specifics of what I needed him to do.”

But the facts belie Birx’s claims. For starters, not even Dr. Anthony Fauci was advocating for mask-wearing in the early days of the pandemic. In fact, in early March of 2020, he warned of the “unintended consequences” of wearing masks because “people keep fiddling with the mask and they keep touching their face.” Fauci advised against masking in the early weeks because of a shortage of PPE for medical workers.

“Masks are really for infected people to protect them from spreading infection to people who are not infected rather than protecting uninfected people from acquiring infection,” Fauci said on Feb. 5, 2020, in an email that was part of a trove of emails released by a FOIA request. “The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through the material.”

A review of a timeline of the administration’s actions in the early weeks of the pandemic also debunks Birx’s claims.

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But perhaps the easiest way to debunk Birx’s claims is to use the words of Dr. Fauci, who addressed the media’s assertions that Trump was ignoring the advice of his medical advisors.

“The first and only time that Dr. Birx and I went in and formally made a recommendation to the president to actually have a, quote, ‘shutdown’ in the sense of — not really ‘shutdown’ but to really have strong mitigation, we discussed it,” Fauci said during a Coronavirus Task Force briefing on April 13, 2020. “Obviously, there would be concern by some that, in fact, that might have some negative consequences. Nonetheless, the president listened to the recommendation and went to the mitigation. The second time that I went with Dr. Birx in — to the president and said, ‘Fifteen days are not enough. We need to go thirty days,’ obviously, there were people who had a problem with that because of the potential secondary effects. Nonetheless, at that time, the Philippines president went with the health recommendations, and we extended it another 30 days.”

Dr. Fauci is no Trump fan, yet even he said unequivocally that Trump listened to their advice on how to mitigate the pandemic, and he promptly implemented their recommendations.

Why is Birx trashing Trump to Congress? She’s previously praised him publicly. It might have to do with the fact that Trump trashed Dr. Birx earlier this year, calling her “a proven liar” with minimal credibility. “Many of her recommendations were viewed as ‘pseudo-science,’ and Dr. Fauci would always talk negatively about her and, in fact, would ask not to be in the same room with her,” Trump said.

That might explain a few things.


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