As calls for reopening the US economy become louder inside the Trump camp, tensions between the White House and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have soared. CDC director Robert R. Redfield and counterpart Anthony Fauci, the head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) have repeatedly warned the president's Coronavirus Task Force against reopening the country too soon. According to some reports, it is Dr. Deborah Birx, however, who has Trump's ear.
Birx: Mediator or New Political Player in WH?
Birx was recently dubbed by Axios "the real power doctor" on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, emphasising the physicians' "masterful political skills". According to Axios, "Birx strategically emphasises the points Trump wants to hear". She, in particular, is highly critical of the World Heath Organization (WHO) and insists that the global entity is badly in need of reform. Birx has claimed that WHO's tracking system is inflating mortality rates and case numbers by up to 25 percent. She has also asserted that "there is nothing from the CDC that [she] can trust", according to The Washington Post. On Thursday, Birx touted recent reports claiming sharp declines in both deaths and hospitalisations across the country, claims that could accelerate the reopening of the US economy.
"Dr. Birx role has been highly questionable in the early stages, but she appears to have become more responsible of late", observes James Fetzer, professor emeritus at University of Minnesota.
He emphasises the doctor's criticism of CDC tabulation of COVID-related deaths which she claims distort and inflate COVID-19 statistics. According to Fetzer, Birx has declared that "The White House has been completely justified in discounting the 'experts' from NIH, the WHO and the CDC".
Birx previously decried what she described as media exaggeration and fear-mongering over the deadly virus, noted Pamela Geller, an American political activist, blogger and editor-in-chief of the Geller Report, in the the top health official's critiques of the CDC.
"The level of misinformation and disinformation is deeply troubling", she suggests. "The continuing shutdown of our country is the biggest mistake in American history, and the White House is correct in repeatedly calling for reopening".
Birx is Trying to Balance Between Science & Calls to Reopen
American journalist and author Daniel Lazare is not impressed by Birx's performance: "Deborah Birx may think she's the 'Trump whisperer' who can keep him under control", he says. "But she's only able to do so is by telling him what he wants to hear".
The journalist is skeptical about Birx's attempts to "defend" Trump in the press. According to Lazare, she sometimes distorts reality in an apparent attempt to appease the president. "On 28 March, she declared in a press conference that 'almost 40 percent of the country' has 'extraordinarily low numbers' of COVID cases, neglecting to mention that those are rural areas containing only 7.2 percent of the US population", he notes.
Birx is not much of a political player, she is just "trying to balance between the Trump administration's desire to rapidly reopen and basic scientific facts" opines Caleb Maupin, speaker, writer, journalist, and political analyst.
"She is trying to play a centrist position, as is Fauci", he says. "Birx and Fauci trying to navigate in the middle of this, and they're facing kind of an onslaught from Trump's supporters in the Trump administration".
Science is Held Hostage to Political & Economic Interests
The CDC has seemingly taken a backseat in the White House task force and is playing a much quieter role than at initial stages of the pandemic, as media remark on Fauci's absence from interviews this week – as the country reopens – as similarly noteworthy. The CDC release of detailed guidance for reopening schools, mass transit and nonessential businesses was made without a formal announcement, and came only after a number of states started lifting lockdowns, according to CNBC.
According to Maupin, the CDC, as well as other health agencies, have fallen victim to mounting pressure in some parts of the US.
"It would be seen as undermining the medical community at a time when they need support", the journalist says. "It's an indirect form of pressure, but it shows that science is deeply impacted by society. There's a whole history of this. Science is not independent".
The political analyst suggests that "science is always impacted by the society that creates it" and "political interests that fund research would prefer one outcome as opposed to another". The issue of dropping the lockdown measures has also become a playground for various business interests, with some industries, like Walmart and Amazon, benefitting from the lockdown, while the real sector is desperately pushing to reopen.
"We have one section of the American elite that wants the science to say we can reopen now and the American elite that wants to say science says we have to be closed down as long as we possibly can", Maupin says, additionally claiming that the so-called elite is "paying scientists to say what they want".
The dysfunctional dynamics at play between the CDC and White House are clear for all to see, echoes Ethan Ralph, founder of conservative website, The Ralph Retort.
"I think it's fairly obvious that there's been tension for awhile now", he says. "I don't think Trump really wanted to shut things down in the first place and was basically scared into it. Ever since then, he's been moving to open up as quickly as possible. Some see this as reckless, even within his own virus response high command".
'Political & Health Officials Should Work in Unison'
Though the CDC has its problems, it must be remembered that the agency is dealing with Trump, who is determined to reopen the economy regardless of the cost to public health, and whatever the agencies say or do is going to be wrong, argues Daniel Lazare. According to him, "the tension between the White House and the CDC is just the latest manifestation of the chaos that has reigned since the virus first appeared in the US in late January".
The controversy between the White House and the country's health and science community is only exacerbating the problem, according to Professor Kelley Lee, tier 1 Canadian research chair in Global Health Governance.
"The countries that respond most effectively during this pandemic will be countries where public health officials and political leaders work in close unison, and where public health experts are allowed to define policy action", Lee said.
What's going on in the US is the opposite, Lee remarked. According to him, the Trump administration "has frequently ignored the advice of scientific experts and prioritised political and economic interests instead".
While CDC has been subject to harsh criticism by the Trump administration and its conservative supporters, the truth of the matter is that SARS-CoV-2 is an absolutely new virus no one has ever dealt with, underscores Mitchell Feierstein, a hedge-fund manager and CEO of the Glacier Environmental Fund Limited.
"As far as the CDC - everyone has a view on COVID-19, which in reality, is a virus that no one yet fully understands - we have incomplete data sets and no safe vaccine", Feierstein highlights. "What we do know is that it's certainly not like the flu".
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.