Review: ‘Silent Invasion’ is Deborah Birx’s story of Trump’s Covid response

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SILENT INVASION: The untold story of the Trump administration, Covid-19 and preventing the next pandemic before it’s too late
By Deborah Birx


On March 2, 2020, Dr. Deborah Birx took up her new position as coronavirus response coordinator on the White House coronavirus task force. She had just stepped off a plane from South Africa, where she had been busy during her sixth year as Global AIDS Coordinator for the United States, overseeing the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a popular and effective initiative launched by George W. Bush. The word “coordinator” is an equivocal title under the best bureaucratic circumstances, let alone in the Trump White House, and amid the urgency of this new pandemic, surging to occlude the oldest (AIDS), Birx did not had neither the time nor the opportunity to define the title before assuming it. She had said yes to “a job that I was not looking for but that I felt obliged to accept”, she says in “Silent Invasion”. She was not here chair of this White House task force; Alex Azar, the health and human services secretary, held the position until he was replaced after a month by Vice President Pence. Birx had an office in the west wing but almost no staff, and his only leverage was persuasion. His account of how it happened – it’s not a spoiler to say, how poorly that unfolded – is serious, exhaustive and excruciating.

A representative inflection point occurred in its first week. She sat in a meeting, ready to hear Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, presents detailed data showing where the virus was in America at that time – data that she assumed would be specific to counties, municipalities and zip codes, and would include positive test rates and hospitalization rates, so that efforts can be focused on localized outbreaks and projections can be made as to where the disease might explode next. What she and her colleagues got was a one-page document from the CDC, devoid of any granular detail. “I pressed the flats of my hands to my eyes and shook my head,” she tells us. “I expected something very different.” The advanced data reporting structures and procedures that she and her PEPFAR team had helped African nations develop over the years did not exist in the United States, although they would be indispensable in days to come. . It wasn’t the last time Birx delivered a face reaction, literally or figuratively, to his new colleagues and bosses.

She did it to Trump himself, a bit more quietly, on April 23, 2020, as she sat against a side wall in the White House briefing room as he boasted, in front of the assembled reporters. , the idea of ​​using disinfectant chemicals taken internally as a possible treatment. against the virus. Did he suggest that Americans drink bleach? It wasn’t clear that he hadn’t. If such disinfectants could kill SARS-CoV-2 on a table, as Trump was told, why not? “It’s over in a minute,” he said. “One minute.” So maybe the doctors should try the injection. “It would be interesting to check that out,” the president said, with no sign of joking (as he later claimed). Birx froze, hands clenched in his lap. You can see her there even now, in video stored on YouTube. “I looked at my feet and wished for two things: something to kick,” she wrote, “and for the ground to open up and swallow me whole.”

By that date, she and her most trusted colleagues on the task force, doctors Redfield and Anthony Fauci, had accomplished something useful: persuading the president to accept a 15-day partial shutdown recommendation, then an extension. 30 days, under the slogan “Stop the spread”; the government appeared to be taking the virus threat seriously. “The President’s sanitizing remark could unravel all of that,” Birx recalled, “and at the worst possible time.” When Trump turned to her to comment on the potential benefits of disinfectant, as well as some form of sterilizing light — sunlight or rays of pure UV radiation or who knows — she replied, “Not as a treatment. .” Birx did not, as she had hoped, disappear through the floor, but she did disappear from the White House influence chart at this time. Daily press conferences ended and she found herself sidelined for the rest of her term as task force coordinator – until January 19, 2021. Why did she stay on? Because Trump and his political advisers didn’t want to fire her, which could have caused bad publicity in an election year, and she didn’t want to quit. “I’m not a quitter,” she writes, one of the many testimonies she reinforces herself with throughout the book.

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