The inside story of how Trump’s COVID-19 coordinator undermined the world’s top health agency

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Stephan Schmitz (Folio Art)

By Charles PillerOct. 14, 2020 , 6:15 PM

Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Heising-Simons Foundation.

This story was also supported by the Science Fund for Investigative Reporting. Please help Science pursue ambitious journalism projects.

On the morning of 13 July, more than 20 COVID-19 experts from across the U.S. government assembled in a conference room at the Department of Health and Human Services, steps from the Capitol. The group conferred on how best to gather key data on available beds and supplies of medicine and protective gear from thousands of hospitals. Around the table, masks concealed their expressions, but with COVID-19 cases surging out of control in some parts of the country, their grave mood was unmistakable, say two people who were in the room.

Irum Zaidi, a top aide to White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx, chaired the meeting. Zaidi lifted her mask slightly to be heard and delivered a fait accompli: Birx, who was not present, had pulled the plug on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) system for collecting hospital data and turned much of the responsibility over to a private contractor, Pittsburgh-based TeleTracking Technologies Inc., …

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