Top US virus official Birx retiring, citing family strain

·3-min read
Deborah Birx, who has faced frequent criticism in her role as White House coronavirus task force coordinator, suggested that recent media coverage had unfairly dragged her family into the spotlight

White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx has said she plans to soon retire, ending a tumultuous assignment that tarnished her once stellar reputation.

The 64-year-old physician and global health expert suggested that recent media coverage had unfairly dragged her family into the spotlight.

She told the outlet Newsy on Tuesday that she planned to help President-elect Joe Biden's team in their transition, and then step aside.

"I will be helpful in any role that people think I can be helpful in, and then I will retire," she said.

"I only came into the White House to ensure that our Covid response could utilize whatever information I had from confronting epidemics around the globe," she added.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tweeted that President Donald Trump "has great respect for Dr. Birx and likes her very much. We wish her well!"

A report by AP on Sunday said that after Birx had warned Americans to limit their Thanksgiving celebrations to their immediate households, she traveled the day after the holiday to a vacation property accompanied by family members from two households.

These included herself and her husband, a daughter, son-in-law, and two young grandchildren.

Birx said she had gone to the Delaware home to winterize the property ahead of its potential sale, and said everyone on the trip belonged to her "immediate household," spread across two homes.

She told Newsy: "This experience has been a bit overwhelming. 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. They've tried to be supportive, but to drag my family into this."

Even prior to the latest episode, Birx, who also holds an ambassadorial post as US Global AIDS Coordinator and served as an Army colonel, had seen her reputation fray badly in her new position, which began in February.

She was initially welcomed as an authoritative medical voice alongside Anthony Fauci, her longtime mentor, while her stylish scarves caught the attention of the fashion press and earned their own Instagram account.

- Fawning -

But she soon came to be seen as fawning toward Trump and unwilling to push back on his bizarre ideas for coronavirus treatments.

The defining moment came during a public briefing where the president floated the idea of injecting disinfectant and using ultraviolet light inside the body to fight Covid-19.

Birx clasped her hands and averted her gaze, before offering that she had not seen heat or light used as a treatment.

At other times she was effusive in her praise for the president, raising eyebrows when she told a reporter: "I think his ability to analyze and integrate data that comes out of his long history in business has really been a real benefit during these discussions about medical issues."

By early summer, Birx was presenting colorful charts that purported to show the country was about to turn a corner in its outbreak -- predictions that spectacularly failed to come true.

A New York Times investigative piece in July said that despite projecting herself as a data-driven numbers maven, she had become the "chief evangelist" inside the White House for the idea the virus was fading.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said subsequently she lacked confidence in Birx, and when the physician did start warning the virus was spreading at an "extraordinary" rate, Trump slammed her stance as "pathetic."

Birx had earlier indicated she would be willing to continue serving under Biden, but his team had given no indication that they intended to keep her on board.