March 29, 2021 — Most of the coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. were avoidable, Deborah Birx, MD, the coronavirus response coordinator under former President Donald Trump, told CNN.
Birx and several doctors who ran the pandemic response spoke with Sanjay Gupta, MD, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, for a documentary called “COVID WAR: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out.”
Birx has been criticized by many for not pushing back publicly against some of Trump’s more outlandish statements about the pandemic. But here, she explains how she says she felt at the time.
Birx said that although many of the first 100,000 deaths in the initial COVID-19 wave were likely inevitable, the deaths from the later waves could have been reduced if the U.S. had implemented lockdown measures sooner and taken safety protocols more seriously throughout 2020.
“The first time, we have an excuse,” she said. “There were about 100,000 deaths that came from the original surge. All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”
The U.S. has reported nearly 550,000 COVID-19 deaths during the pandemic, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. has reported the most deaths of any country throughout the pandemic, followed by Brazil with 312,000 deaths and Mexico with 201,000 deaths.
In March 2020, Birx warned that 240,000 people would die if precautions weren’t taken, according to USA Today. She didn’t believe that the U.S. would more than double that number.
“I can’t tell you how many discussion we had on how do we get the message out, realizing what’s happening at the most senior levels of the White House,” Birx told ABC News earlier this month. She added that she felt uncomfortable with the COVID-19 misinformation that Trump spread throughout the year.
In another interview with CBS News, Birx also said there were people in the White House who “definitely believed that this was a hoax” and that Trump’s public comments often contradicted the guidelines that she and the COVID-19 response team would send to governors and local leaders.
In the CNN documentary, which is airing this week, other officials expressed their concerns about the pandemic response and the high number of deaths. Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases and a COVID-19 advisor for President Joe Biden, said he would have been alarmed a year ago about the number of deaths that would occur.
“I would have been horrified that that was even a possibility,” he told CNN.
“The thing that hit me like a punch to the chest was then all of a sudden [Trump] got up and says, ‘liberate Virginia,’ ‘liberate Michigan,’ and I said to myself, ‘Oh my goodness, what is going on here?’” Fauci added. “It shocked me because it was such a jolt to what we were trying to do.”