(CNN)The US may finally be getting a handle on the coronavirus pandemic, but for so many Americans, it’s too late, and that disconnect is raising fresh questions about why the US couldn’t have done more earlier.
Dr. Deborah Birx, who served as the White House coronavirus response coordinator under the Trump administration, reveals her chilling conclusion in a new CNN documentary that the number of coronavirus deaths could have been “decreased substantially” if cities and states across the country had aggressively applied the lessons of the first surge toward mitigation last spring, potentially preventing the surges that followed.
It is a bracing retrospective from one of the top doctors who was tasked with halting the pandemic, and it comes at a time when many grieving families are still trying to understand how one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations in the world was unable to prevent the loss of nearly 550,000 lives.
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta asked six of the doctors who ran point on the pandemic response, including Birx, to provide their insights on what the US could have done differently in the new documentary, “COVID WAR: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out,” which airs Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on CNN. The doctors all painfully dissected the country’s missteps that led to the enormous loss of life. But Birx saw it most starkly, stating that the vast majority of America’s deaths could have been prevented, a painful interpretation of the last year for a nation still trying to come to terms with the ongoing loss of life.
In recent weeks, the news has been dominated by positive signs, like the rapidly accelerating pace of vaccinations and the fact that 71% of Americans 65 and older already having received one shot. The nation seems to be breathing a collective sigh of relief that the United States is no longer staggering through the frantic triage mode that characterized most of the last year, even if the data isn’t all trending in the right direction.
While Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, keep urging Americans to mask up and not to let their guards down — especially given the rise in new variants — the nation has arrived at a calmer moment of introspection, one where there is time to actually reflect on what went wrong.
One area that is drawing new scrutiny is how long it took for former President Donald Trump and his Covid-19 advisers to declare a pause to slow the spread in March 2020 after the initial surge in coronavirus cases began — and how many lives could have been saved if all Americans had really adhered to the restrictions on gatherings and social distancing. In the new documentary, Birx gives Gupta her gut-wrenching answer when asked how much of an impact it would have made if the US had paused earlier and followed through with the safety measures that were proven to slow the spread.
“I look at it this way. The first time we have an excuse,” Birx says. “There were about a hundred thousand 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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