WASHINGTON - Former White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said in a recent interview that most of the deaths following the initial surge of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. could have been avoided.
Speaking during an interview for an upcoming CNN documentary, Birx said, "The first time, we have an excuse. 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."
On March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic.
COVID-19 exploded globally, infecting more than 127 million people around the world and upending the lives of nearly everyone on Earth.
In late March of 2020, as the virus rapidly spread across the U.S., the White House coronavirus task force predicted up to 240,000 total deaths from the virus. By March 31, 2020 the U.S. reported more than 4,300 total coronavirus deaths since the pandemic was declared according to the Covid Tracking Project.
The U.S. has since surpassed that death toll estimate by White House health officials last year with more than 549,000 deaths and counting as of Monday, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.
As a year of the pandemic passed, the U.S. continued to be inundated with mounting coronavirus cases and deaths with no apparent end in sight. Hospitals became gravely overrun and refrigerated trucks used to store bodies became a normal sight amid the ongoing pandemic.
Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci, who were a part of the Trump administration’s White House coronavirus task force, have both said the handling of the pandemic contributed to unnecessary deaths.
Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, said a lack of facts and transparency surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic in the Trump administration "very likely" cost lives.
In January, during an interview with CNN’s John Berman, Fauci was asked if the lack of "candor" and "facts in some cases over the last year cost lives." Fauci responded, "You know, it very likely did."
Fauci is now chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden in an ambitious effort to conquer the virus. Fauci told Berman that the Trump administration delayed getting sound scientific advice to the country. "When you start talking about things that make no sense medically and no sense scientifically, that clearly is not helpful," he said.
During Trump’s presidency, Birx said she clashed with the former president and other officials who moved to set aside science and promote "reopening" the country amid the worsening pandemic.
Trump's raising of unproven ideas for fighting COVID-19 — including his public musings about injecting disinfectants into people — triggered an outcry from health officials in April last year. The makers of Lysol made a statement in the wake of the then-president's remarks urging people not to ingest their cleaning products.
In an interview with ABC News’ Terry Moran earlier this month, Birx said she thinks about the comments Trump made suggesting that people inject themselves with disinfectants to fight COVID-19 "every day."
"Frankly, I didn't know how to handle that episode," Birx said. "I still think about it every day."
Since Birx left her role at the White House, the U.S. has struggled to get a handle on the ongoing pandemic.
More than 51 million Americans have been administered a COVID-19 vaccine, although the seven-day average for positive COVID-19 cases rose nearly 10.6% over the past week, according to the CDC. The seven-day average for hospitalizations rose by 4.2% over the past week and the seven-day COVID-19 death rate average has increased 2.6%.
Biden on Monday warned state officials who lifted mask mandates to reinstate them as well as maintain any preventative health measures to stave off a potential fourth COVID-19 surge.
"If we let our guard down now, we can see the virus getting worse, not better. People are letting up on precautions, which is a very bad thing. Please, this is not politics, reinstate the mandate if you let it down," Biden said. "Now is not the time to let down," Biden continued.
During a virtual White House health briefing on Monday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who has been warning of a potential new COVID-19 surge in the U.S. for weeks, said she sees signs that her prediction is coming to pass.
"I’m going to pause here. I’m going to lose the script and I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom," she said during the press briefing Monday. "We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope, but right now, I’m scared."
This story was reported from Los Angeles. The Associated Press contributed.