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Deborah Birx, White House Coronavirus Coordinator, To Retire After Biden Transition

White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx on Tuesday described her experience leading the task force as "overwhelming," suggesting her family have unfairly been targeted in the attacks against her.
Carolyn Kaster
White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx on Tuesday described her experience leading the task force as "overwhelming," suggesting her family have unfairly been targeted in the attacks against her.

Dr. Deborah Birx, one of the nation's highest-ranking infectious disease experts, suggested on Tuesday she'll likely retire ... soonish.

In an interviewwith Newsy, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus response said she would like to be part of the team that helps the forthcoming Biden administration with its coronavirus response. But following that last bit of public service, Birx disclosed that she'd step away from more than three decades as the steward of some of the country's most important public health systems.

"I will be helpful in any role that people think I can be helpful in, and then I will retire," Birx told the news outlet.

She added: "I only came into the White House to ensure that our COVID response could utilize whatever information I had from confronting this pandemic around the globe."

It is unclear when she is expecting to retire. Birx didn't provide an exact time frame for her plans. She did not immediately respond to NPR's questions about her departure.

Birx was appointed to the coronavirus task force in February, leaving her post as the U.S. Global AIDS coordinator — an ambassador-level job inside the State Department in which she oversaw the U.S. government efforts to combat the spread of HIV globally. She'd held the position since 2014 after being appointed by President Barack Obama. Before that, she spent nearly a decade running the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's global HIV/AIDS division.

For decades, Birx has been able to successfully navigate between Washington diplomatic circles and public health experts. But over the last 10 months her once impeccable reputation has been somewhat tarnished.

In recent days, Birx has come under fire for being among the list of public officials offering mea culpas for their do-as-I-say, not-as I-do behavior. The AP reportedyesterday that Birx traveled to Delaware over the Thanksgiving weekend after warning Americans to stay home for the holiday.

While she urged the public to "be vigilant" and limit celebrations to people in "your immediate household," the 64-year-old drove with family members from two separate households — another no-no according to the CDC — to visit one of her vacation properties on Fenwick Island in Delaware.

She later explained to the AP that the purpose of the trip was to weatherize the home, which she and her husband intend to put up for sale.

"We never visited anyone. We never had anyone into the household. It was the same situation as if we had been here at home," she told Newsy.

But she did acknowledge the trip created a negative perception and pledged not to embark on a similar trip through the remaining holidays.

"This experience has been a bit overwhelming," Birx admitted to Newsy, adding that her family has been unfairly drawn into the backlash she now faces.

"They didn't choose this for me," she said.

But that isn't the only issue members of the public, politicians and other public health officials have with Birx. She's also been accused of being too tolerant of President Trump's bizarre claims about the coronavirus pandemic and possible treatments. Among the most memorable public moments is when in April Birx quietly stood by as Trump wondered aloud if the coronavirus might be treated by injecting disinfectant into the body, then proposed irradiating patients' bodies with UV light.

"So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous - whether it's ultraviolet or just very powerful light ... and I think you said that hasn't been checked but you're going to test it," the president said, turning to Birx, who appeared stunned by the question but offered no rebuttal. Instead, she sat stoically, breaking eye contact with the president and staring at the ground with her hands clasped in her lap.

The president pressed Birx further, asking if she had ever heard of using "the heat and the light" to treat coronavirus.

Finally, she responded. "Not as a treatment."

"I mean, certainly, fever is a good thing. When you have a fever, it helps your body respond. But I've not seen heat or light," she added.

Despite her efforts not to publicly confront or contradict Trump — something Dr. Anthony Fauci did not shy away from doing — the president eventually turned on Birx. When she issued a warning that the coronavirus was spreading at an extraordinary rate, Trump called her pathetic.

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Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.
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