By Kevin Freking | Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A lack of clear, concise and consistent messages about the severity of the novel coronavirus in the early months of its spread created a false sense of security in Americans that the pandemic would not be serious and led to inactivity in early federal government .

That was the assessment of Dr. Deborah Birx, who served as the COVID response coordinator under former President Donald Trump and first testified before a House panel on Thursday about her time in the Trump administration.

“It wasn’t just the president, a lot of our leaders used words like ‘we can contain it,’ and you can’t contain a virus that you can’t see,” Birx said. “And it wasn’t seen because we weren’t testing.”

Birx appeared before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, whose partisan divisions were apparent during the hearing as Democrats turned their attention to missteps made during the Trump administration, while Republicans did the same when it came to Democrats. led states like New York or under the Biden administration, such as when President Joe Biden exaggerated the efficacy of vaccines by telling Americans in a CNN town hall, “You won’t get COVID if you have these vaccinations.”

Much of the hearing focused on concerns Birx had about strategies promoted by Dr. Scott Atlas, who joined the White House as a pandemic advisor in the summer of 2020, argued that it was okay for low-risk people to get infected with the virus as long as the vulnerable are protected. Birx was asked why she thought that vision so dangerous.

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“Dr. Atlas believed that anyone who wouldn’t get serious illness should be infected,” Birx said. The difficulty, she said, was the premise that the country could then “magically separate the 50 or 60 million vulnerable Americans at high levels from that infection.”

She said that when Atlas and other officials embraced that view about the virus, it sowed doubts in the American public.

“It created a feeling that everything could be fine,” she said.

Birx also said Atlas’ tenure “destroyed any coherence in the response from the White House itself.”

To underscore the divisions in the White House, the subcommittee released new emails, including from Birx to then-CDC director Robert Redfield, then FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn and Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

In the August. On a December 11, 2000 email, Birx described a “very dangerous meeting at the OVAL yesterday,” with a list of concerns. “The conclusion was that Dr. Atlas is brilliant and the President will now follow his lead,” she wrote. She went on to say she would continue to focus on working with states, but questioned her ability to make the president change his mind about what needs to be done, such as strict mask use, expanding testing, strict social distancing and limiting reopening schools where there was uncontrolled community dispersion.

Atlas was not a participant in the hearing, but he did participate in an extensive interview with the committee staff earlier this year, in which he downplayed his role in the White House’s COVID efforts.

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“Dr. Birx was responsible for the policies implemented before and during my time there and also after my departure. The whole time, the policy was directly from Dr. Birx to the governors and that has never changed,” Atlas said.

Atlas said his role in the White House was to provide information to the president and he was critical of what he called “Birx-Fauci lockdowns,” which he described as a failure.

“The elderly were still dying. The infection was still spreading. It was a failure and tremendous damage has been done to our children and families by this total wide closure,” he told the commission.

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