The right has found a savior in Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. During Thursday’s White House press briefing, Birx suggested that some of the grim covid-19 predictions and rumors of ill-equipped hospitals are nonsense, giving Republican politicians and conservative talking heads the ammo they need to legitimize their favorite conspiracy theory: That covid-19 is being hyped by a hysterical left-wing media, desperate to discredit President Trump
Birx dismissed an Imperial College London study that projected 510,000 covid-19 deaths in the United Kingdom and as many as 2 million deaths in the United States. The alarming model acted as a catalyst for the United States to strengthen its defenses against covid-19 when it was published just over 10 days ago, but Birx claimed that there have since been changes made to the model that call its predictions into question.
“They’ve adjusted that number in the U.K. to 20,000,” Birx said. “Half a million to 20,000. We are looking at that in great detail to understand that adjustment.”
It’s worth noting that Neil Ferguson, the head of the group behind the study, says Birx is misinterpreting the data. In a Twitter thread, Ferguson wrote that their latest estimates suggest covid-19 is actually more transmissible than they thought and that their “lethality estimates remain unchanged.” The so-called adjusted number Birx cited was simply one of the estimates of what could occur if the United Kingdom underwent strict social distancing practices and other public safety practices.
But why worry about details? Birx barrelled on.
“Models are models,” she said. “There is enough data of the real experience with the coronavirus on the ground to really make these predictions much more sound. So when people start talking about 20 percent of a population getting infected, it’s very scary, but we don’t have data that matches that based on our experience.”
Birx then chided the spread of doomsday scenarios that she said have not yet come to pass in the United States, like hospitals creating Do Not Resuscitate measures and hospitals operating without enough ventilators.
“To say that to the American people, to make the implication that when they need a hospital bed it’s not going to be there, or when they need that ventilator it’s not going to be there, we don’t have evidence of that right now,” Birx said. “And it’s our job collectively to assure the American people... to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
She continued: “These [covid-19] cases are concentrated in highly urban areas. There are other parts of the states that have lots of ventilators, and other parts of New York state that don’t have any infections right now. So we can be creative, we can meet the need by being responsive, but there’s no model right now, no reality on the ground, where we can see that 60 to 70 percent of Americans are going to get infected in the next eight to 12 weeks.”
The “urban areas” dog whistle couldn’t be louder, but viruses don’t care about coded language, and the right seems to routinely ignore the fact that 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas. To find an iota of reassurance in Birx’s words would take Olympic-level mental gymnastics, which the conservatives across the country are eager to do. Birx is the new hero of the right, and they’re singing her praises.
From Fox News personality Laura Ingraham to Senator John Cornyn of Texas and all the miscellaneous right-wing clout-magnets in between, Birx has given legitimacy to the growing push against adherence to strict social distancing measures and Trump’s push to get Americans back to work.
When Birx is not reassuring Americans that everything in hospitals is Fine, Actually, she’s singing Trump’s praises in the form of incomprehensible buzzword garbage.
“I think his ability to analyze and integrate data that comes out of his long history and business has really been a real benefit during these discussions about medical issues,” Birx said. “Because in the end? Data is data.”