Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, has been accused of violating her own travel guidelines after spending the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with her family, something that the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) and even Birx herself have discouraged.
Birx and her husband traveled to one of their vacation homes in Delaware the day after Thanksgiving. They stayed there for two days with their daughter, son-in-law and two young grandchildren, who live in a different house and are therefore considered members of another household under CDC's guidelines.
"Your household is anyone who currently lives and shares common spaces in your housing unit... People who do not currently live in your housing unit, such as college students who are returning home from school for the holidays, should be considered part of different households," read the CDC website.
The agency has been reminding Americans not to travel over the holidays and to avoid any indoor activities with members of different households. Birx herself seconded the guidelines in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, saying people should "take it upon [themselves] to be restrictive" about how they spend their holiday time.
Many health officials condemned Birx's actions and said she should be held to a higher standard given her prominent role in the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Birx issued a statement acknowledging that she went to her Delaware property. But she insisted that the purpose of her visit was to prepare the winterization of the place before a potential sale, which Birx said she wasn't able to do due to her busy schedule.
"I did not go to Delaware for the purpose of celebrating Thanksgiving," Birx said. Though she did admit that her family shared a meal together while in Delaware, Brix maintained that everyone on the trip belongs to her "immediate household."
Birx, however, previously stated that her daughter's family lives in a different house. She and her husband currently reside in Washington but has a home in nearby Potomac in Maryland, where her elderly parents and her daughter's family live. Birx initially called the Potomac home a "three-generation household (formerly four-generation household)."
She also said in early April that she couldn’t visit her Potomac house when one of her grandchildren had a fever. "I did not go there," said Birx while standing next to President Donald Trump. "You can’t take that kind of risk."
Since then, she has resumed her visits to the house even though her job makes her an "essential worker" who has a high risk of infection. Birx has been traveling extensively, often to coronavirus hot spots, and has an office in the White House, where several staff members tested positive for the coronavirus.
Many medical experts criticized Birx for her failure to follow her own guidelines. Dr. Abraar Karan, a global health specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said: "We need leadership to be setting an example, especially in terms of things they are asking average Americans to do who are far less privileged than they are."
Lawrence Gostin, a public health expert at Georgetown University who has known Birx professionally for years, said that while he’s confident that Birx observed all necessary precautions during her travel, her actions undermined her larger goal to get Americans to cooperate with the government.
"It’s extraordinarily important for the leaders of the coronavirus response to model the behavior that they recommend to the public," Gostin said. “We lose faith in our public health officials if they are saying these are the rules but they don’t apply to me.”
Birx reportedly wishes to maintain a significant role on the coronavirus task force should Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden get inaugurated next month. But Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Georgetown Center for Global Health Science and Security, thinks that Birx's recent actions "disqualifies her from any future government health position." (Related: If Biden is installed, Fauci wants even more control over Americans.)
"It’s a terrible message for someone in public health to be sending to the American people," said Rasmussen.
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