Birx Was Involved In WH Effort To Push CDC To Downplay Risks Of Opening Schools

Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour / Public Domain


Dr. Deborah Birx reportedly pressured CDC officials to embrace a document downplaying the COVID risk among children.

The New York Times reported Monday that Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, was involved in White House efforts to pressure the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to downplay the risks of opening schools amid the pandemic.

  • The Times reported that “White House officials also tried to circumvent the C.D.C. in a search for alternate data showing that the pandemic was weakening and posed little danger to children.”
  • As part of the effort, Birx reportedly “took a direct role in an effort to push the C.D.C. to incorporate work from a little-known agency inside the Department of Health and Human Services, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.”

The document worked on by the mental health agency struck a different tone from the cautious approach being proposed by the C.D.C., warning that school closures would have a long-term effect on the mental health of children. It said that “very few reports of children being the primary source of Covid-19 transmission among family members have emerged” and asserted that children who were asymptomatic “are unlikely to spread the virus.”

  • Birx asked in a July 19 email to CDC Director Robert Redfield that the document be incorporated “as background in the introduction section” of the CDC’s forthcoming guidance, The Times reported.

C.D.C. scientists pointed out numerous errors in the document and raised concerns that it appeared to minimize the risk of the coronavirus to school-age children, according to an edited version of the document obtained by The New York Times. The C.D.C. was successful in beating back some of the proposed changes, and the line about asymptomatic children was not included in its final guidelines.

But the gist of the mental health agency’s position — stressing the potential risks of children not attending school — became the introductory text of the final C.D.C. policy, leaving some officials there dismayed.

  • CDC scientists succeeded in having some material they viewed as objectionable removed from the document, which then cleared the White House's Office of Budget and Management, The Times reported. But the White House subsequently reversed course.

On July 23, with hours to go before the new guidance was to be published, the White House staff secretary further stunned C.D.C. officials by emailing the guidance to a long list of top White House officials, asking for any “critical edits” by 1 p.m. The list included Mark Meadows, the chief of staff; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser; Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council; and Stephen Miller, a White House policy adviser.

By the time it was published, it contained information that C.D.C. officials had objected to earlier in the week, suggesting in particular that the coronavirus was less deadly to children than the seasonal flu.

Read the full report.


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