Deborah Birx, White House COVID coordinator touted U.S. investment in global public health and praised international efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic just as the Trump administration formally withdrew from the World Health Organization.
Birx, appearing at an Atlantic Council panel discussion, pointed to U.S. investments in global efforts to combat HIV and tuberculosis and praised the international community for sharing information early in the pandemic that she said reduced U.S. deaths.
“That global cooperation, which sometimes isn’t visible at the highest stage, works every single day,” Birx said as she thanked ministers from European nations. “You saved a lot of people in the U.S. by sharing that information early on.”
Her comments at the international think tank came as the administration sent the United Nations and Congress formal notice of the U.S. withdrawal from the WHO, which a White House spokesperson confirmed will take effect on July 6, 2021. President Donald Trump announced the decision in May, citing what he characterized as the WHO’s slow and ineffective response to the pandemic and Chinese government influence over the group.
Senate health committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), sharply criticized the move on Tuesday, saying it could hurt efforts to develop vaccines and respond to other emerging global threats. He said Trump could have instead recommended changes to how the WHO does business.
Alexander said in a statement “Withdrawing U.S. membership could, among other things, interfere with clinical trials that are essential to the development of vaccines, which citizens of the United States as well as others in the world need”.
Coronavirus infections are rising in at least 40 U.S. states and are on pace to soon hit 3 million confirmed cases nationwide. Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, in particular, have seen cases and hospitalizations accelerate in recent weeks.
Birx in an earlier appearance Tuesday attributed the rise in cases to states and local governments relaxing lockdown orders too quickly — and to individuals not wearing face coverings or social distancing.
Birx floated the idea of “mandatory masks” in areas that are seeing a high number of cases. Other top government officials including NIH infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, CDC Director Robert Redfield and Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir have all endorsed universal face coverings as infection rates climb.
“We have the control to change the course of this virus today, and it will take individual action, wearing masks in public everywhere in the United States, wearing masks around the vulnerable inside, wearing masks in the workplace, really curtailing our activities,” said Birx.
Trump has largely downplayed the resurgence in cases or the need for masks while pressing to continue reopening the country. The White House is pushing schools to reopen in the fall, even as cases spike.
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