Story at a glance

  • During a new CNN documentary, Deborah Birx explains that the COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. could have been much lower.
  • More than half a million Americans have died due to COVID-19.

In a series of explosively candid interviews with some of the lead doctors at the helm of the COVID-19 pandemic, Deborah Birx, former President Trump’s public health adviser, explains that despite the difficult onset of the pandemic, many Americans did not have to die.

She recounts that once the first surge of COVID-19 infections occurred during March 2020, public health officials better understood how the virus transmitted between humans. 

Using epidemiological controls like shutting down public spaces, implementing social distancing and eventually mandating face masks when in public, the total fatality count of the pandemic could have been much lower.

“I look at it this way: the first time we have an excuse,” she explained to Sanjay Gupta. “There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge. All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”


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National data reports that about 548,867 Americans have died due to COVID-19 related causes. Fatalities in the U.S. have steadily declined by 29 percent over the past two weeks but stand to possibly increase with the recent uptick in new cases.

One of the first data dashboards tracking the COVID-19 pandemic and patient outcomes long confirmed this. The Institute for Health Metrics’s influential COVID-19 projections mapped the course of the pandemic under several circumstances, including the universal usage of facial masks. 

When applying the statistical effects of wearing face masks consistently, the extrapolated data suggests that COVID-19 fatalities in the U.S. decline substantially. 

Protocols like social distancing and universal mask-wearing were difficult to enforce, with some individual states and localities implementing their own ordinances despite national guidance.


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About one year after the first surge, President Biden successfully vaccinated 100 million individuals within his first 100 days in office. He now aims to increase his initial goal to 200 million.

Simultaneously, Biden’s U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Rochelle Walensky issued a warning last week amid an uptick of new COVID-19 infections.

“I continue to be worried about the latest data and the apparent stall we are seeing in the trajectory of the pandemic,” she said during a White House press briefing last Wednesday. “We’ve made such extraordinary progress in the last several weeks, and if we choose to invest in prevention right now, we will ultimately come out of this pandemic faster and with fewer lives lost.”


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Published on Mar 29, 2021