Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx and other public health experts spent the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving pleading with the American public to stay home and limit their holiday celebrations to just their immediate households to prevent a surge in coronavirus cases.
Millions of Americans ignored that guidance. More than eight million people passed through the nation’s airports in the days surrounding Thanksgiving and millions more hit the road. Among those: Birx, who on the day after Thanksgiving, made the three-hour drive from the Washington, D.C., area to a vacation property she owns in the coastal town of Fenwick Island, Del.
The Associated Press reports that with her were three generations of her family from two different households in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. The road trip party included Birx, her husband, Paige Reffe, a daughter, son-in-law and two young grandchildren.
After The Associated Press raised questions about her Thanksgiving weekend travels, Birx acknowledged in a statement that she went to her Delaware property, but she declined to be interviewed about the matter. She insisted that she did not go to Fenwick Island for the purpose of celebrating Thanksgiving, but rather to winterize a vacation property there in preparation for a potential sale.
In the spring, as the seriousness of the pandemic was first becoming evident, Birx as one of the most visible members of the White House coronavirus task force. But later, when Donald Trump began suggesting that people could protect themselves against the virus by ingesting bleach, she came under criticism for not speaking out forcefully against such a dangerous suggestion from the president.
After the election, as President-elect Joe Biden began to shape his cabinet and health care team Birx made it clear that she would like to be part of the new administration. In light of her decision to disregard her own guidance advising against travel and intermingling of households, a number of public health experts say she disqualified herself.
“We need leadership to be setting an example, especially in terms of things they are asking average Americans to do who are far less privileged than they are,” said Dr. Abraar Karan, a global health specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Georgetown Center for Global Health Science and Security, said, “It”s a terrible message for someone in public health to be sending to the American people.”