Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator under former President Donald Trump, on Sunday said the U.S. should not have had to rely on COVID data from Europe to protect Americans in the early days of the pandemic.
“In March of 2020, all of our data that I used to warn Americans of who was at risk for severe disease, hospitalization, and deaths came from our European colleagues,” Birx told CBS’ “Face the Nation. “That in itself should be an indictment of our system.”
Last week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced a “reset” at the Atlanta-based agency, which has been heavily criticized for its lagging response to COVID and monkeypox.
“I feel like it’s my responsibility to lead this agency to a better place after a really challenging three years,” Walensky told The Associated Press.
Birx welcomed Walensky’s announcements, calling this moment “an infection point” for the CDC.
Birx also called attention to failures in the CDC’s system in 2020 for reporting COVID data from hospitals.
Further, she said, the CDC used a “convenience data set” to issue guidance that people could return to work wearing a mask after five days of isolating following a COVID infection. Antigen tests would have revealed most Americans would still test positive up to 11 days into their infection, she noted.
“Recommendations that are created out of lack of transparency, and out of a black box where you can’t really follow the logic is what leads to fracturing and trust,” Birx told CBS’ Margaret Brennan. “And you really have to work to reestablish that. It can be done, but they have to change how they collect data, how they present data, and how they communicate to the American people.”
Earlier this month, the CDC dropped its recommendation that people should quarantine if they are deemed a close contact of a person with COVID. The agency also removed its guidance for people to avoid being within six feet of others.
Still, the U.S. could face a tough winter ahead with both COVID and flu circulating if Americans don’t take precautions, Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, has warned.
“Our health care system is going to get into serious trouble unless we are very proactive about preventing it,” Jha told at an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Tuesday, adding that testing and treatment will play important roles this winter.
On monkeypox, Birx said she found it troubling that the country did not learn from the mistakes of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What was so disturbing to me about monkeypox is a lot of the issues that got us into the ditch with COVID were repeated,” Birx said. “Those mistakes were repeated with monkeypox: not adequate testing early on, not making tests available in every community that you knew was at risk.”
She continued: “Just like what happened with COVID, lack of preparation, lack of engagement, lack of utilization of the tools that we had in real-time to prevent this 14,000, and probably it’s well over 20,000 now.”