News & Politics

Dr. Birx Injects a Dose of Reality Into Coronavirus Discussion

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Briefing Room, Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been sounding the alarm about the need for a massive number of ventilators to stave off a humanitarian catastrophe. He wants 30,000 of the machines now.

Trump dashed some cold water on his face.

Politico:

Speaking with Sean Hannity on Fox News on Thursday night, Trump again minimized the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic, casting doubt on the need for tens of thousands of ventilators for hospitals responding to the crisis.

“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be,” he said. “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You go into major hospitals sometimes, and they’ll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?’”

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said she had been told by state health officials that New York had an adequate supply of ventilators.

While there may be shortages in urban areas like New York City, Birx said, there are other parts of the state “that have lots of ventilators and other parts of New York state that don‘t have any infections right now.“

“There is still significant — over a thousand or two thousand ventilators that have not been utilized yet,” Birx said. “Please, for the reassurance of people around the world, to wake up this morning and look at people talking about creating DNR situations — do not resuscitate situations for patients — there is no situation in the United States right now that warrants that kind of discussion.“

Birx was talking about a Washington Post article from yesterday reporting that hospitals were discussing mandatory “Do Not Resuscitate” orders for virus patients near death. As for the ventilators, it would be interesting to ask Governor Cuomo if he knows the exact number of ventilators in his state and where they are. Many of us would also be curious about where he got the models that are telling him he’s going to need 30,000 ventilators.

Birx is becoming Trump’s media truthsayer. In her briefing yesterday, she laid into the press for their hysteria-generating stories and scare headlines.

The Hill:

“When people start talking about 20 percent of a population getting infected, it is very scary but we don’t have data that matches that based on the experience,” Birx said.

“We don’t have data” is a polite way of saying, “you’re full of s**t.”

“There’s no … reality on the ground where we can see that 60 to 70 percent of Americans are going to get infected in the next eight to 12 weeks,” Birx later continued.

Make no mistake. The “reality” is bad. The rising number of infections tells us it’s bad. But Birx made a point that appears to be underreported — probably because it’s not sensational enough.

Birx, an HIV/AIDS expert from the State Department who was brought on to coordinate the federal government’s response to the coronavirus, noted that 19 of the 50 U.S. states are showing a persistently low level of coronavirus cases despite reporting early infections. These 19 states each have fewer than 200 cases, Birx said, and are still working to actively contain the virus rather than mitigate its spread.

“That’s almost 40 percent of the country with extraordinarily low numbers and they are testing,” Birx said.

Will Birx be able to make the same point two weeks from now? Today, we’re seeing new cases of people who were infected up to two weeks ago. At that time, there was little social distancing and we were in the midst of a maddening snafu with testing. So it’s likely that the number of infections and serious illnesses will continue to rise dramatically.

Trump probably won’t get a total “back to work” situation by Easter. And those Americans who live in urban areas like New York and Chicago will almost certainly remain under lockdown well into May. But the image created by some in the media of patients overflowing hospitals, dying for a lack of ventilators doesn’t match the current situation on the ground or any models being trusted by the government.

Dr. Birx was right to call them out on it.