For months, Dr. Deborah Birx has stood loyally by Trump as he painted an optimistic picture of the pandemic. She sat silently on the podium at the White House briefing when he recommended that people inject or ingest disinfectant. Surely she knew that was absurd. Several days ago, the New York Times noted that Dr. Birx had become a favorite of Trump because she did not contradict him as Dr. Fauci occasionally does. Then Rep.Nancy Pelosi criticized Birx. Then Birx stated publicly that the virus was getting worse, not better. And then Trump got angry at her.

James Hohmann writes about Dr. Birx in the political maelstrom in the Washington Post:

Deborah Birx was at a vacation home in Delaware when White House communications staffers called to say they needed to put her on the Sunday shows. Ever the good soldier, the coordinator of President Trump’s coronavirus task force appeared remotely on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Asked whether schools should fully reopen, Birx answered: “If you have high caseload and active community spread … we are asking people to distance learn at this moment, so we can get this epidemic under control.”


Administration officials say Birx has been arguing this privately, citing recent studies to make her case, but saying so publicly was one of the factors that put her crosswise with Trump. The president responded to the interview by calling her “pathetic!” in a tweet on Monday morning and continued his aggressive push to fully reopen schools during an afternoon news conference, disregarding warnings against doing so from a chorus of public health experts while ignoring mounting evidence that this could lead to potentially deadly outbreaks.


Trump closed out the day by reiterating his view on Twitter at 11:22 p.m., August 3:




“OPEN THE SCHOOLS!!!”

Now that August has arrived, bringing the start of a new academic year for some districts, the clash over whether to reopen schools for in-person learning has arguably transcended the debate over mask mandates to become the biggest flashpoint in the ongoing culture war over how to respond to this novel coronavirus. Trump believes getting kids back in classrooms is essential to revving up the economy before the election so that parents can return to work, but many of the president’s own advisers fear that doing so too soon will be counterproductive if new infections continue to spike.


These fights are playing out far beyond Washington, in communities and even countries across the globe.


Protesters in at least three dozen school districts across the country, from New York and Philadelphia in the East to Los Angeles in the West, took to the streets on Monday in demonstrations backed by teachers’ unions to demand that science drive decisions about when and how to resume in-person learning. “In Milwaukee, the Teachers’ Education Association tweeted pictures of protesters making fake gravestones that said, for example, ‘RIP GRANDMA CAUGHT COVID HELPING GRANDKIDS WITH HOMEWORK,’” Valerie Strauss reports. “In Baltimore, teachers and students and others protested outside a Comcast building to demand the company provide improved Internet service for students…


“Still, some districts have already begun the 2020-21 academic year by reopening school buildings, and already covid-19 cases have been reported in some of them. In Georgia’s Gwinnett County, some 260 employees tested positive or had possibly been exposed to the coronavirus a day after teachers returned to work last week and were told to stay home. Alcoa City Schools in Tennessee recently opened but a few days later, a student tested positive for the virus. At Corinth High School in Mississippi, in-person classes started last week and within days, three students tested positive for the coronavirus and others went into quarantine as a result of contact tracing.”

Maryland’s governor and leaders of the state’s largest jurisdiction clashed Monday over whether private schools should be able to bring students back on campus for in-person learning,” Donna St. George, Erin Cox and Hannah Natanson report. “Three days after Montgomery County’s top public health official said that private and parochial schools would have to stick to online teaching until at least Oct. 1, Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday sought to invalidate the county directive. … Hogan (R) said school systems and private schools should have sole authority to determine when and how to safely reopen; local health officials may shut down schools only on a case-by-case basis for health reasons. …


“Private schools have explored options including hybrid approaches that combine distance education with in-person learning. Many schools were still finalizing plans, but many families expected some degree of on-campus instruction in the fall. … Private schools affected by the Montgomery County directive and governor’s order include St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, the private school in Potomac attended by Barron Trump, the president’s youngest child. Parents of Montgomery County private school students filed a federal lawsuit Monday asking a judge to overturn the county health director’s order, which attorney Tim Maloney said still stands and could be enforced unless the county rescinds it — or a court invalidates it.”


In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) has said schools must reopen in some capacity two weeks from now. But the head of public instruction for the state, an elected position, said in a statement on Monday that in-person learning is still unsafe. “Every indicator shows that there is high community spread across the state,” said Superintendent Kathy Hoffman. “As school leaders, we should prepare our families and teachers for the reality that it is unlikely that any school community will be able to reopen safely for traditional in-person or hybrid instruction by August 17th. Our state is simply not ready to have all our students and educators congregate in school facilities.”


Jeff Gregorich, superintendent of schools at Hayden Winkelman Unified School District in Arizona, was blunter. “There’s no way it can be safe,” he told Eli Saslow. “If you think anything else, I’m sorry, but it’s a fantasy. Kids will get sick, or worse. Family members will die. Teachers will die.”


College students who have come back to campus are testing positive. The Northwestern University football team paused its preseason workouts in Evanston, Ill., after someone involved tested positive. “NU is the sixth Big Ten program to pause its preseason workouts at some point this summer, following Indiana, Ohio State, Rutgers, Maryland and Michigan State,” per the Daily Northwestern.
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irginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley, a top NFL draft prospect, opted out of the upcoming season and accused his school of being lax in its coronavirus-related protocols. Out West, the Big 12 announced Monday night that its football teams will play a 10-game schedule this fall with one nonconference home matchup. Down South, the University of Texas at Austin sent an email to all students saying that all parties, whether on or off campus, will be banned when they are scheduled to come back in three weeks.


The United Nations said in a 26-page report issued this morning that as many as 100 countries have not yet announced a date for schools to reopen. The report says over 1 billion students are impacted, and at least 40 million children worldwide have missed out on education “in their critical preschool year.” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a video address accompanying the report that this poses the threat of “a generational catastrophe that could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress and exacerbate entrenched inequalities.”


“We are at a defining moment for the world’s children and young people,” Guterres said. “The decisions that governments and partners take now will have lasting impact on hundreds of millions of young people, and on the development prospects of countries for decades to come.”


“UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education Stefania Giannini told reporters the Paris-based agency plans to hold a high-level virtual meeting in the fall, likely during the second half of October, to secure commitments from world leaders and the international community to place education at the forefront of recovery agendas from the pandemic,” the AP reports. “There may be economic trade-offs, but the longer schools remain closed the more devastating the impact, especially on the poorest and most vulnerable children,” she said.


A study published on Monday by The Lancet warns that Britain could be hit by a severe second wave of the coronavirus this winter — double the size of the initial outbreak — if the country’s test and trace system does not improve substantially before schools reopen in September. Researchers at University College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine used computer models and a range of scenarios to determine the impact reopening schools on a full-time or part-time basis would have on public health, per Jennifer Hassan.




Trump said Birx offered a gloomy assessment of the coronavirus situation to save face after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) criticized her for carrying water for the president. “In order to counter Nancy, Deborah took the bait & hit us,” Trump tweeted. “Pathetic!”


“Birx finds herself isolated with increasingly few allies even as she remains responsible for overseeing the nation’s response to a cataclysmic crisis,” Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey and Yasmeen Abutaleb report. “Trump has grown exhausted by the dismal coronavirus news and just wants the issue to be behind him. … In recent weeks, her time in the Oval Office has dropped, officials said, and she is not always part of decision-making meetings led by Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. … Within the administration, several current and former senior officials described Birx as a politically shrewd power player … But some of these same officials also noted that Birx has made enemies within the White House, in part because a growing number of aides believe she takes different positions with different people and because of sharp attacks on some colleagues.”


Meanwhile, Birx’s reputation has taken a hit in the public health world where she has spent her career because she is perceived as too much of a cheerleader for the administration’s response. “He’s been so attentive to the scientific literature and the details and the data,” Birx told the Christian Broadcasting Network in late March. “At the time, Trump was pushing the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, an unproven medical treatment for the coronavirus, and was arguing in favor of reopening the country by Easter despite surging cases across the country,” per Ashley, Josh and Yasmeen. “Another controversial moment came when Birx defended Georgia’s reopening in April, which included tattoo parlors and hair salons, where people cannot be socially distant from each other. Public health officials were also dismayed at reports that Birx was questioning the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s official coronavirus death count as too high, when nearly all experts believe it is probably too low.”


Trump met with Birx on Monday afternoon. During his news conference, he walked back his harsh morning attacks. Trump said he has “a lot of respect” for Birx. Then the president attacked Pelosi for treating her “very, very badly