News and Commentary

Dr. Birx Defends Thanksgiving Trip, Says She Will Retire Over Backlash
Deborah Birx, coronavirus response coordinator, speaks while U.S. President Donald Trump, left, listens during a Coronavirus Task Force news conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. Trump invoked the Defense Production Act, allowing the government to boost production of masks and protective equipment. Europe surpassed China in the number of coronavirus infections. Photographer:
Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Dr. Deborah Birx said Tuesday that she plans to retire as coordinator of the White House coronavirus pandemic response team after facing backlash for a Thanksgiving trip to Delaware.

Birx traveled to her vacation home in Delaware during the Thanksgiving holiday, along with her husband, her daughter, and her daughter’s family, who are members of a separate household — a trip that was in violation of her own agency’s coronavirus prevention guidelines.

Birx, as well as other experts, cautioned Americans not to travel over the holidays or spend time with family members who reside in separate households where they might have been exposed to the novel coronavirus. “Canceling” the holidays, both Thanksgiving and, now, Christmas, is part of the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with a surge of post-holiday patients.

“It looked like things were starting to improve in our northern plain states, and now with Thanksgiving, we’re worried that all of that will be reversed,” Dr. Birx told CBS the Sunday after Thanksgiving. “If your family traveled, you have to assume that you were exposed and you became infected and you really need to get tested in the next week.”

Tuesday morning, Birx defended her decision to meet up with family at her Delaware vacation home, claiming the visit was to “winterize” the property and not to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday and that the family spent fewer than 50 hours on site.

“We did not hold the usual Thanksgiving dinner we have every year which includes 30-40 members of my extended family. In fact, I did not hold a Thanksgiving celebration whatsoever this year,” Birx said in her statement. “My trip to Delaware after the Thanksgiving holiday solely focused on preparing the property for a potential sale. Members of my immediate household assisted in that as well.”

Neither Birx nor other health officials specified that a non-celebratory trip would be acceptable over the holiday weekend, just that travel and intermingling should be avoided.

Birx claimed to have followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations.

“As some members of my immediate family could be at risk for COVID-19, I am extremely vigilant in taking all precautions to protect them,” she said. “I self-isolate, I wear a mask, and I get tested when I interact with them. My family and I follow and practice CDC guidelines, and I encourage all Americans, especially those in situations similar to mine, to do the same.”

Health officials, of course, have specified no exceptions to the de facto travel restrictions for those who also follow masking guidelines.

Dr. Birx later told media that she plans to retire, and cited the backlash to her Delaware trip as one reason why she feels the need to transition out of her position on the White House’s pandemic response team.

“I will be helpful in any role that people think I can be helpful in, and then I will retire,” she told media outlet Newsy later Tuesday morning, according to The Associated Press.

“Birx, 64, told Newsy the scrutiny she has received in her job has been a ‘bit overwhelming,'” the outlet noted.

“I will be helpful through a period of time, and then I will have to say this experience has been a bit overwhelming,” she said. “It’s been very difficult on my family. I think what was done in the last week to my family, you know, they didn’t choose this for me.”

“You know, they’ve tried to be supportive, but to drag my family into this, when my daughter hasn’t left that house in 10 months, my parents have been isolated for 10 months, they’ve [be]come deeply depressed, as I’m sure many elderly have as they’ve not been able to see sons, their granddaughters. My parents haven’t seen their surviving son for over a year,” she added. “These are all very difficult things.”

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