Birx tells of guilt-ridden grandmother in urging social distancing

World News | Published:

The White House medical expert says her grandmother brought the flu home from school in 1918 and fatally infected her mother.

White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx took a personal angle on Wednesday in her latest plea to the American public to practise social distancing.

Dr Birx said her grandmother Leah lived with a lifetime of guilt, because she caught the flu at school and, in turn, infected her mother. Leah’s mother, who had just given birth, died of the flu — one of an estimated 50 million worldwide who died in the 1918 influenza epidemic, Dr Birx said.

“She never forgot that she was the child that was in school that innocently bought that flu home,” Birx said of her grandmother, who was 11 at the time.

“I can tell you, my grandmother lived with that for 88 years,” Dr Birx said, adding: “This is not a theoretic. This is a reality.

Virus Outbreak Trump
Vice President Mike Pence, flanked by medical experts Dr Deborah Birx and Dr Anthony Fauci, speaks at Wednesday’s White House briefing as reporters observe social distancing (Alex Brandon/AP)

Dr Birx, who has become a regular at President Donald Trump’s daily updates on the crisis, has been perhaps the most outspoken in pressing Americans to be mindful in how they are interacting with others.

This is not the first time she has spoken in personal terms about the need for social distancing. She told reporters earlier this week she stayed away from the White House over the weekend after coming down with a low-grade fever.

Dr Birx said she went to Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre late on Saturday night and was tested. The test came back was negative. She said it was probably “a GI (gastrointestinal) thing”.

Previously, she has spoken of avoiding seeing her young grandchildren in recent weeks out of abundance of caution, and mentioned her own millennial daughters as she has made the case for young Americans to do their part to stop the spread of the virus.

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