This past weekend, Birx said, was especially difficult for her.
“My grandchild of 10 months got a fever of 105 this weekend,” she said during Monday’s press briefing. “I’m the doctor and I couldn’t get there."
Standing alongside President Trump and Vice President Pence, Birx, a physician, described trying to instruct her daughter remotely how to listen to her own lungs and the baby’s lungs. Respiratory issues are among the symptoms of a coronavirus infection.
Aside from wanting to adhere to the official guidelines, Birx noted there was another major factor that influenced her decision to stay away from her ailing grandchild: her frequent contact with Trump, 73, and Pence, 60. The president and vice president are both within the age range of the population’s most at-risk segments, as is Birx, who is 64.
“You can’t take that kind of risk with the leaders of the country,” she said.
Birx told reporters Monday that her granddaughter’s high fever was likely the result of roseola, a common viral illness that affects young children, and not covid-19. But she said her recent experience serves as an example of the lengths people should be willing to go to stay isolated amid the outbreak.
“I know you all are making sacrifices, and I guess I want everyone to take this seriously,” she said.
Along with Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Birx is a voice of scientific expertise for the White House.
The doctor and retired Army colonel, who has a background in immunology, rose to national prominence as the country’s global AIDS coordinator after spending years working toward a cure and vaccine for the disease. Since 2014, Birx has run the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, the largest disease-specific foreign-aid program in U.S. history, as Emily Bass wrote in a profile for The Washington Post Magazine.
On Monday, the beginning of what the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams predicted will be “the hardest and saddest week of most Americans’ lives,” Birx stressed the importance of social distancing, urging people to heed the recommendations “out of respect for every single health-care worker that’s on the front line."
“We need to take care of each other now as Americans and do everything that’s in those guidelines, and I know they’re tough,” Birx said while suggesting that the public start limiting their trips to grocery stores and pharmacies. “I know incredibly how tough they are.”
Then Birx explained how she could relate, telling the story about not being able to treat her granddaughter. Birx splits her time between a house in Northwest Washington and one in Potomac, Md., which she shares with the rest of her family — including her parents, both nonagenarians, and her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren.
But as Birx was in the middle of explaining her weekend of socially distant doctoring, Trump, who had been standing off to the side listening, cut in.
“So, you did not get there,” Trump interrupted, raising his hands.
“I did not go there,” Birx responded with a smile.
“Good, I’m very happy about that,” said the president, a self-described “germaphobe.”
Still smiling, Birx quickly turned to face Trump and Pence.
“Because of you two,” she noted, waving her hand at the men and chuckling.
After Dr. Birx tells a story about how she felt bad because social distancing prevented her from being there for her 10-month-old granddaughter who had a fever of 105 degrees last weekend, Trump jumps in to say: "You did not get there? Good, I'm very happy about that." pic.twitter.com/zPC7MGOgG7— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 6, 2020
Then, Trump asked Birx if her “grandson” was okay.
“Daughter,” she corrected, adding, “She’s coming out of it.”
“That’s a lot of temperature, 105,” Trump remarked.
“Yes,” Birx acknowledged before steering the briefing back to the importance of people staying indoors as much as possible.
Later, when a reporter asked Birx about her granddaughter’s condition, she went into greater detail.
“Due to the great care of my 91-year-old nurse mother and my daughter, she’s down to like 100 to 99 now, but it was three days of 104, 105,” she said.
It is not uncommon for babies to run high fevers, but Birx said that doesn’t make the ordeal any easier.
“It’s very scary, especially when I couldn’t assure myself that she was fine,” she said. “It was just some sleepless nights for me and them as they kept her fever down.”
Birx went on to emphasize that she does not believe her granddaughter contracted the coronavirus. Her family has been diligently self-isolating, she said.
“No one is allowed in that house or out of that house because there’s too much precious cargo inside the house,” she said.