Standing outside one of the main buildings on the University of Connecticut campus last week, Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, let out an exasperated sigh through her peach-colored face mask.
Birx had been traveling almost non-stop since June, working with local and state officials to develop area-specific strategies for slowing the spread of the highly contagious virus. Connecticut was her 32nd state and, as in the others, she was peppered there with questions about the mixed messaging stemming from the White House.
Seemingly frustrated by the fact that, 200,000 deaths later, there was still uncertainty about the federal government’s COVID-19 prevention strategy, Birx paused before laying out, yet again, her broken-record response: Wear a mask, wash your hands, and stay socially distanced. Wear a mask, wash hands, social distance.
“We have been able to give our best public-health and scientific advice to leadership and… I continue to do that every day whether it is the governor, whether it is the president, or whether it is members of the community. The consistency of that message is absolutely key,” Birx said. Pressed again on whether masks were necessary, the task force leader rolled her eyes: “Let me make it clear: We know how effective these are in blocking our droplets. It’s not just theoretic[al].”
Birx’s frustration may have been months in the making. But the context was unavoidable. Just days prior, President Trump had returned home from Walter Reed Medical Center and, still infected with the virus, triumphantly removed his mask on the balcony of the White House for prime-time television.
It was a move directly at odds with the caution that Birx and others have been pitching. But while she may have seemed irritated by it all, she was hardly the only high-ranking health official indicating that they’re at their wits’ end with Trump. [Continue reading…]