White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Deborah Birx has resigned after it emerged she hosted a Thanksgiving gathering.
Deborah Birx, 64, cited the criticism she had faced for a family get-together over Thanksgiving in Delaware in her decision to step aside.
She said: “This experience has been a bit overwhelming.
“It’s been very difficult on my family.”
Dr. Birx had reportedly been seeking a job from President-elect Joe Biden.
A world-renowned AIDS researcher, Deborah Birx has worked in the US government since the Reagan administration.
In December 22, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tweeted President Donald Trump’s good wishes, saying he “has great respect for Dr. Birx and likes her very much. We wish her well”.
In an interview with Newsy aired on December 22, a masked Dr. Birx did not specify when she would stand down, but said she would help the incoming Biden administration and “and then I will retire”.
Dr. Birx had urged Americans in the days before Thanksgiving to restrict gatherings to “your immediate household”.
But it emerged on December 20 she had travelled from Washington to one of her other properties, on Fenwick Island in Delaware, where she was joined by three generations of her family from two households.
While in Delaware, Dr. Birx did an interview with CBS in which she noted that some Americans had “made mistakes” over Thanksgiving by travelling and they “should assume they were infected”.
The CDC, whose director has often joined Dr. Birx on the podium during briefings, has warned Americans not to travel over the holidays.
As the US coronavirus caseload surges, the CDC has also cautioned against indoor gatherings with people from different households.
Dr. Birx had insisted she went to the property in Delaware to prepare it for a potential sale, though she acknowledged sharing a meal with her family during the visit.
Explaining her decision to gather with her husband, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren, Deborah Birx told Newsy: “My daughter hasn’t left that house in 10 months, my parents have been isolated for 10 months.
“They’ve become deeply depressed as I’m sure many elderly have as they’ve not been able to see their sons, their granddaughters.
“My parents have not been able to see their surviving son for over a year. These are all very difficult things.”
According to the Associated Press, Deborah Birx owns another home in Potomac, Maryland, where her parents live, and where she visits from time to time.
Speaking on May 13 at the White House, President Trump took issue with Dr. Fauci’s comments to a Senate hearing a day earlier about the risks to children of reopening and his assessment that a vaccine was unlikely before classes could begin this autumn.
He said: “Look, he wants to play all sides of the equation.”
“I was surprised by his answer actually, because, you know, it’s just to me – it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools,” the president told reporters.
The president said “the only thing that would be acceptable” is giving older teachers and professors a few more weeks before they return.
“Because this is a disease that attacks age, and it attacks health,” he said.
“But with the young children, I mean, and students, it’s really – just take a look at the statistics. It’s pretty amazing,” he added.
President Trump is keen to get Americans back to work and has praised governors who are moving to do so while criticizing others for not acting aggressively enough.
The US is split over President Trump’s focus on protecting livelihoods, critics accuse him of gambling with lives to serve his own political interests ahead of November’s re-election bid.
His latest comments come amid reports of some young children being severely affected by an inflammatory syndrome that could be linked to the virus.
Speaking to lawmakers on May 12, Dr. Fauci, a White House task force coronavirus expert, warned that relaxing stay-at-home rules too quickly could bring more “suffering and death”.
The director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases emphasized the importance of not being “cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects” of the disease.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said: “We just have to see on a step-by-step basis as we get into the period of time with the fall, about reopening the schools, exactly where we will be in the dynamics of the outbreak.”
He also said the real US death toll is probably higher than the official figure.
On May 12, Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan said he was lifting that state’s stay-at-home measure, replacing it on May 15 with a “safer-at-home” order.
The Republican, who has been critical of President Trump, cited a two-week decline in severe cases and deaths that federal guidelines recommend.
Dr. Anthony Fauci and two other members of the White House coronavirus task force are self-isolating for two weeks after possible exposure to the illness.
Dr. Fauci has become the public face of the fight against the virus in the US.
His agency, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he was at “relatively low risk” due to the degree of his exposure.
However, the 79-year-old has tested negative.
Dr. Fauci will work from home for the time being and will be regularly tested, the institute said.
VP Mike Pence’s press secretary Katie Miller, the wife of President Donald Trump’s aide Stephen Miller, tested positive for the virus on May 8.
Katie Miller’s diagnosis came after a valet for President Trump was also confirmed to have the illness.
CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield and FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn are also self-isolating.
In a statement, the CDC said Dr. Redfield, 68, had no symptoms and was not feeling unwell, but would also be working from home for two weeks after “low risk exposure” to someone at the White House. It is unclear who this person is.
An FDA spokesman told Reuters on May 8 that 60-year-old Stephen Hahn was also self-isolating. He has also tested negative, the spokesman said.
The three men were due to address a Senate committee on May 12.
Before the news about Dr. Anthony Fauci became public, committee chairman Senator Lamar Alexander said Dr. Redfield and Dr. Hahn would be allowed to testify by videolink.
The US has 1.3 million confirmed cases and has recorded 78,794 deaths – by far the highest total in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Many states brought in lockdown measures in March to try to contain the outbreak. But now some have lifted restrictions to allow people to return to work, a move health officials fear could further spread the virus.
Former President Barack Obama has sharply criticized his successor’s response to the crisis. During a private phone call to former staffers, Barack Obama called the response “an absolute chaotic disaster”.
Last week, President Trump said he would refocus the White House task force on kick starting the US economy, a day after suggesting he would disband it.
President Donald Trump has confirmed the White House coronavirus task force will be winding down, with Vice-President Mike Pence suggesting it could be disbanded within weeks.
He said during a visit to a mask-manufacturing factory in Arizona: “We are bringing our country back.”
New confirmed infections per day in the US currently top 20,000, and daily deaths exceed 1,000.
However, US health officials warn the virus may spread as businesses begin to reopen.
The US currently has 1.2 million confirmed coronavirus infections and more than 70,000 related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, which is tracking the pandemic.
During a visit to the plant in Phoenix after weeks holed up at the White House, President Trump told journalists: “Mike Pence and the task force have done a great job, but we’re now looking at a little bit of a different form, and that form is safety and opening. And we’ll have a different group probably set up for that.”
President Trump – who wore safety goggles but no face mask during his tour of the facility – was asked if it was “mission accomplished”, and he said: “No, not at all. The mission accomplished is when it’s over.”
Critics have accused the president of sacrificing Americans’ public health in his eagerness to reopen the economy ahead of his re-election battle in November.
Acknowledging a human cost to the plans, President Trump told reporters: “I’m not saying anything is perfect, and yes, will some people be affected? Yes.
“Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon.”
However, it will be up to individual states to determine how they reopen.
Some Democratic governors in badly hit states have been cautious, calling for more testing and other safeguards before easing lockdowns. Other states, many led by Republicans in the south and mid-west, have already begun lifting restrictions.
The White House coronavirus task force was set up on January 29. VP Mike Pence became its chairman four weeks later and its members include more than 20 experts and leading administration officials. The White House said the task force’s duty was to “lead the administration’s efforts to monitor, contain and mitigate the spread of the virus” and provide the public with information.
President Trump’s once-daily task force briefings became increasingly scarce after he was widely condemned by the medical community for pondering at the podium last month whether injecting disinfectant might kill the virus.
The government’s own coronavirus-prevention advice is that people should wear face coverings “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain”.
The Mayo Clinic itself requires all patients and visitors to its medical centers to wear a mask or face covering.
VP Pence’s visit came on the same day that the US coronavirus caseload topped one million and the number of deaths surpassed 57,000.
President Donald Trump has himself previously said he has no plans to wear a mask.
The vice-president defended his decision to flout hospitals rules as necessary in order to meet with staff and patients.
He said: “As vice-president of the United States, I’m tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis, and everyone who is around me is tested for the coronavirus.
“And when the CDC issued guidelines about wearing a mask, it was their recognition that people that may have the coronavirus could prevent the possibility of conveying the virus to someone else by wearing a mask.
“And since I don’t have the coronavirus, I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to be here, to be able to speak to these researchers, these incredible healthcare personnel, and look them in the eye and say thank you.”
According to news website Axios, Mike Pence has never once worn a mask while in public since the pandemic began while continuing to travel throughout the country.
A Mike Pence aide was the first White House member to test positive for the virus in late March.
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