With over one million deaths reported from COVID-19 and enormous collateral damage to public health, education and the economy, our response to the pandemic has been a disaster. Yet some House Democrats are now defending Trump administration officials responsible for initiating these misguided policies.
Two Trump-appointed officials — former CDC director Robert Redfield and White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx — officially led the federal response from the start of the pandemic until January 2021. They adopted containment measures, including school and business closures, as a centerpiece. of the national response to the coronavirus. In a recent report, Democrats on the Congressional Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis defended these Trump officials. In doing so, they reiterated the misunderstandings that underlie the Birx-Redfield-Fauci strategy.
Trump officials made two fundamental mistakes. First, they did not prioritize protecting older Americans from a disease that had an infection fatality rate more than a thousand times higher in the elderly than in the young, resulting in many unnecessary deaths.
Unlike Ebola, but similar to the flu and coronaviruses that circulated before, it was never possible to suppress COVID-19 to achieve “zero COVID”. Many countries have tried, but none have succeeded. Lockdowns have only prolonged the pandemic. Despite the government’s tough lockdowns, extensive contact tracing, and constant anxiety-provoking warnings, most Americans have been infected. Inevitably.
With their particular focus on suppressing COVID, Birx, Redfield and Anthony Fauci have failed to implement measures to protect older, high-risk Americans. They praised governors who ordered hospitals to send COVID-infected patients back to nursing homes, where they infected other residents. Excessive staff turnover has spread the virus both within and between nursing homes. Instead of implementing daily testing in nursing homes, Birx, Redfield and Fauci used limited resources to test asymptomatic children and students. It wasn’t until Dr. Scott Atlas arrived in the White House in July 2020 that the government made more tests available to nursing homes.
When enough people recover from COVID, the country achieves herd immunity. After that, the disease becomes endemic, like other coronaviruses that cause occasional colds. Given that the Birx-Redfield-Fauci strategy led to mass infection and eventual herd immunity, it is curious that congressional Democrats are now claiming that these Trump officials were opposed to a “herd immunity strategy.” The truth, now obvious to all, is that all COVID strategies lead to herd immunity. This is how pandemics end.
Drs. Birx, Redfield and Fauci also turned a blind eye to the enormous collateral damage caused by their policies: missed cancer screenings and treatments, worse care for cardiovascular disease, fewer childhood vaccinations and deteriorating mental health, to name a few. examples. Instead of highlighting these failures in the report, congressional Democrats disparage Dr. Atlas for his concern about them.
In their vain efforts to suppress the disease, the worst failure of these officials has been the strategy of closing schools. Absence from school causes enormous harm to children, especially poor and middle-class children. Research predicts they will live shorter, poorer and less healthy lives as a result of the lockdowns. Unfortunately, only a few states, such as Arkansas, Florida and Wyoming, resisted the Birx-Redfield-Fauci school closings.
In August 2020, with Professor Joseph Ladapo then of UCLA and Professor Cody Meissner of Tufts University, we traveled to the White House to advocate for better protection for older Americans and for the opening of schools and universities. During our meeting with the president and vice president, we were surprised that neither Birx, nor Redfield, nor Fauci were available to meet with us. From the subcommittee’s report, we now know that Birx offered “to get out of town or whatever [White House] cover” to avoid meeting us.
Why wouldn’t the federal COVID coordinator meet with scientists who have decades of experience in public health and infectious diseases? Why are congressional Democrats tolerating behavior one would expect from junior high school students? They should encourage frank discussions among scientists about a major public health crisis. As a lab scientist, Fauci was understandably unaware of long-established public health measures to protect the vulnerable, but he didn’t ask around and learn from public health scientists.
Whether one approves or disapproves of Donald Trump, many regard the response to the pandemic as his administration’s greatest failure. This response was coordinated by the White House’s coronavirus task force, with Vice President Mike Pence as chair and with Birx, Redfield and Fauci as key medically trained members.
The verdict is in and it is now clear that they failed. With a greater emphasis on protecting the elderly while keeping schools, health care and small businesses open, Republican Florida and Social Democratic Nebraska and Scandinavia have less collateral damage without higher excess mortality.
Birx and Redfield failed to protect older Americans from COVID-19. They have failed to protect all of us, especially our children, from the collateral damage of the lockdown. They did not listen and learn from other scientists. In 2020 they fooled many Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike. Surprisingly, it is now the Democrats in Congress who are stepping in to defend these Trump appointees. Instead, they should embrace independent-minded scientists who have favored targeted protection over lockdowns.
Jay Bhattacharya, MD, PhD, is an epidemiologist and health economist. He is a professor of medicine at Stanford University. Martin Kulldorff, PhD, is an epidemiologist and biostatistician specializing in infectious disease outbreaks and vaccine safety. He is a senior researcher at the Brownstone Institute and a former professor of medicine at Harvard.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors.