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The day after Thanksgiving, the head of the White House coronavirus task force Deborah Birx spent a couple of days with her daughter’s family at a vacation home in Delaware.
The sister of Birx’s son-in-law tipped off the Associated Press.
Birx announced she would retire a month later at the end of Trump’s term.
Former President Donald Trump didn’t appreciate the comments Dr. Deborah Birx made in a CNN report criticizing his administration’s handling of the coronavirus.
Birx, who was coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said the Trump administration failed to give the public clear, consistent guidance. She laid many deaths at the administration’s feet.
"There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge," Birx said in the March 28 broadcast featuring several doctors who advised Trump. "All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially."
To date, the U.S. death toll is just shy of 550,000.
Trump fired back. In a statement, he cast Birx and infectious-disease chief Anthony Fauci, who also appeared on the program, as "two self-promoters trying to reinvent history to cover for their bad instincts." He accused Birx of hypocrisy.
"Who can forget when Dr. Birx gave a huge mandate to the people of our nation to not travel, and then traveled a great distance to see her family for Thanksgiving — only to have them call the police and turn her in," Trump wrote March 29. "She then, embarrassingly for her, resigned."
Birx did travel for Thanksgiving. Her family did not call the police.
Here are the details.
On Dec. 20, 2020, the Associated Press reported that the day after Thanksgiving, Birx traveled from Washington to a vacation property on Fenwick Island in Delaware, just off Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The group included her husband; a daughter and her husband; and two grandchildren. The 130-mile drive takes about two hours.
The CDC Thanksgiving guidance recommended celebrating with "people in your household," and said that "staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others." If you do travel, it said, "always wear a mask in public settings and on public transportation."
Birx’s trip lasted about two days. During that time, she appeared on CBS News’ "Face the Nation," where she told young people who traveled for Thanksgiving, "you need to assume that you're infected and not go near your grandparents and aunts and others without a mask. We're really asking families to even mask indoors if they chose to gather during Thanksgiving."
When the AP asked Birx about the trip, she said through a statement from her office that she "did not go to Delaware for the purpose of celebrating Thanksgiving." It was more for winterizing her vacation home, the statement said, although the group did share a meal during their stay.
At a time when the public message was to stay home, the trip reflected badly on Birx as a public-health official. The AP article quoted two public health researchers who criticized Birx. Angela Rasmussen, a Georgetown virologist, said "this disqualifies her from any future government health position."
Two days after the AP article, Birx said in an interview that she planned to retire, saying her position "has been very hard on my family," and that they had been dragged "into this."
In that interview, Birx said she welcomed the chance to help the incoming Biden administration take the reins in fighting the pandemic. Formally, Birx held the position of ambassador-at-large at the State Department, where she had served as global AIDS coordinator. She stepped down on Jan. 20, 2021, the last day of Trump’s term.
There is no report that anyone in Birx’s family called the police. We reached out to Trump’s office for their source and did not hear back.
The AP said the sister of Birx’s son-in-law brought the matter forward. Slate reported that the sister tipped off the AP and is estranged from the family. The AP said the woman acknowledged there was "family friction."
Trump said Birx "traveled a great distance to see her family for Thanksgiving — only to have them call the police and turn her in. She then … resigned."
Birx took a two-hour drive with her daughter’s family to a vacation home the day after Thanksgiving. The sister of Birx’s son-in-law told the AP, not the police, about the trip. Birx soon announced she would retire, and she stepped down at the end of Trump’s term a month later.
Trump invented and embellished the details, but broadly, the claim rates Half True.
Boston Herald, Full text of Trump’s statement on Fauci, Birx, March 29, 2021
CNN, COVID WAR: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out, March 28, 2021
AP, Birx travels, family visits highlight pandemic safety perils, Dec. 20, 2020
CBS News, Transcript: Deborah Birx on Face the Nation, Nov. 29, 2020
U.S. State Department, Deborah L. Birx, Jan. 20, 2021
Newsy, Birx plans to retire, Dec. 22, 2020
Daily Beast, Dr. Deborah Birx Says She’ll Retire After ‘Difficult’ Week for Her Family, Dec. 22, 2020
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