Monday, November 15, 2021



Re the recent document dumps from the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis:

Remember 26 March 2020, when coronavirus task force coordinator and full-time Hermès model Deborah Birx gave an interview to the Christian Broadcasting Network featuring a surprising evaluation of President Trump's intellectual preparedness for dealing with the Covid crisis?

“He’s been so attentive to the scientific literature and the details and the data,” Birx said. “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.” (via Aaron Rupar/Vox)

You might be surprised to hear it, but it turns out that she eventually changed her mind about that, if it's really what she actually thought at the time [Narrator Voiceover: "It's not exactly what she thought at the time"]. Healthcare advisor Andy Slavitt, talking to her that August, said she was chafing at having been dropped from Trump's circle of trusted advisers, where she'd been largely replaced by radiologist and Hoover Institution fellow Scott Atlas, who knew nothing whatsoever about epidemiology and had been busy on Fox News advocating a "herd immunity" strategy in which healthy young people would voluntarily expose themselves to Covid-19, especially kids:

He claimed that children "have virtually zero risk of dying, and a very, very low risk of any serious illness from this disease" and "children almost never transmit the disease"[30][35] although children can carry, transmit, and in some cases be killed by the COVID-19 virus.[30] By September, 2021, 544 American children had died of COVID-19.

At that point, she told Slavitt, she hoped Trump would lose the presidential election and said that "Fighting the virus and Scott Atlas together is the hardest thing I've had to do," while in a follow-up interview in October she said she was "downright scared".

And according to the interview transcripts from the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus released to CNN last Friday, she was particularly upset at

how the Trump administration pushed for guidance that said people who were not symptomatic did not need to be tested, despite disagreement from health officials. She said it was the intent of Dr. Scott Atlas, a Trump coronavirus adviser, "to change the testing guidance."
"This document resulted in less testing and less -- less aggressive testing of those without symptoms that I believed were the primary reason for the early community spread," she said.

Or as I was saying in March 2020, when 23 Americans had died of the disease,

I agree 100% ... that there should be massive random sampling to improve the data quality, but I don't see how we can pause the social isolation measures for three or six weeks to do it, allowing the bars and beaches and schools and sports competitions and concerts to carry on as before, given the geometrical rate at which the disease clearly spreads. We'll have to improve the testing as we can, simultaneously with working to flatten that curve. It doesn't matter whether you don't know about two thirds of the cases or 99.7% of them. There are never going to be fewer cases than your inadequate testing leads you to suspect.
When you start testing seems to be a more important variable in the deadliness of the disease than how much of it, judging from the various experiences so far of China (where early catastrophic failure to test may have been largely repaired by crazy radical isolation policy), the tiger economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan (in all of which early testing and isolation of those with symptoms followed by a more thorough testing regime as it became available has led to the most successful outcomes), and the horrible cases of Italy and Iran and probably Russia, where testing began too late, though not as late as the US.

We always knew that Trump had been hampering the effort to get proper testing going from the start, as Julia Ioffe reported in April 2020:

A large part of the blame lies with President Trump, who has not wanted widespread testing, apparently out of an obsession with keeping the number of confirmed COVID cases low. It’s why he waffled so long on whether to let the Grand Princess cruise liner, where COVID infections were spreading rapidly, dock in the United States. “I would rather have them stay on [the ship], personally,” Trump said earlier this month. “I don't need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn't our fault.” His administration turned down tests provided by the World Health Organization and instead wasted precious time having the Centers for Disease Control create its own test.

The CDC did change the guidance on Covid testing in late August, without an announcement, removing

advice that everyone who has been in close contact with an infected person should get tested to find out whether they had contracted the virus. Instead, the guidance says those without symptoms “do not necessarily need a test.”

Several leading infectious-disease experts predicted that, after months of public health exhortations encouraging people to get tested, the turnaround could heighten public confusion, impede contact tracing and lead to more cases. The nation’s society of infectious-disease doctors demanded the guidance be reversed as the United States leads the world in confirmed cases and deaths.

But denied that Trump and Atlas had anything to do with it:

Brett Giroir, an assistant HHS secretary who oversees testing, denied the impetus for the shift came from the White House. He said the idea of altering the testing guidance originated with him and CDC Director Robert Redfield, based on concerns that people can have misleading negative results if the test is given too early....

“All the docs signed off on this … before it got to a place where the political leadership would have ever seen it,” Giroir said. He said the task force debated the change for about a month before approving it last Thursday.

Fauci contradicted aspects of that, however, in a statement he gave to CNN’s Sanjay Gupta. “I was under general anesthesia in the operating room last Thursday and was not part of any discussion or deliberation regarding these new testing recommendations … I am concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption asymptomatic spread is not of great concern. In fact, it is.”

Birx's new evidence confirms what we intuitively knew all along. Giroir and Redfield were lying: the impetus for the change came from Atlas and Trump. It was done behind Fauci's back, in the knowledge that Fauci would disapprove, and Fauci had the courage (unlike Birx) to issue a small protest, alongside the more aggressive protest from the professional association, but the whole testing side of the approach to the pandemic never did play the role it should have played, as attention shifted to vaccine. In particular the cheap rapid tests for home use that even now could be making a vital contribution to containing outbreaks among the unvaccinated, as Michael Mina has been saying for a year or more, didn't get off the ground.

And that's hundreds of thousands of victims. In a better world Trump and Atlas (and of course Kushner, I guess, who decided the pandemic was no big deal because it would probably only kill Democrats) would be charged with homicide on an enormous scale—it's clearer than ever. Failing that, can we just say it aloud more often?

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