White House coronavirus coordinator Deborah Birx has defended travelling with family to her holiday home in Delaware the day after Thanksgiving, insisting the trip was to prepare the property for a “potential sale”.
The government adviser, who advised Americans to “be vigilant” and to limit celebrations to “your immediate household” over the holidays, went to the Fenwick Island property with three generations of her family from two different households.
She was accompanied on the 50-hour stay by her husband Paige Reffe, one of her daughters, her son-in-law and two grandchildren for the trip. Dr Birx refused to comment to the Associated Press, who first reported on the trip on Monday.
Dr Birx declined to be interview by the news agency but said in a statement that the people at the gathering were all part of her “immediate household” but but lived in two different homes.
In a further statement to Fox News, she insisted that her family did “not hold a Thanksgiving celebration whatsoever this year”and said members of her family helped get the house ready for a possible sale.
She added said: “[My parents] live with me in my immediate household in Potomac, where my daughter and her family reside as well.
“We are all supporting each other and providing for each other during this difficult time. My trip to Delaware after the Thanksgiving holiday solely focused on preparing the property for a potential sale. Members of my immediate household assisted in that as well.”
Dr Birx said she did not have time to prepare the property for winter before the Thanksgiving holidays due to her busy schedule.
Her trip came as new coronavirus cases surged across the US and the Centers for Disease Control Center urged Americans to remain at home for this year’s holiday.
“People who do not currently live in your housing unit, such as college students who are returning home from school for the holidays, should be considered part of different households,” CDC advice said at the time.
Dr Birx said that everyone on her Delaware trip belongs to her “immediate household,” even as she acknowledged they live in two different homes.
She initially called the Potomac home a “three-generation household (formerly four generations).” White House officials later said it continues to be a four-generation household, a distinction that would include Dr Birx as part of the home.
Dr Birx’s own experiences highlight the complexity and difficulty of trying to navigate the perils of the pandemic while balancing a job, family and health.
But critics said she should be held to a higher standard due to her high-profile role within government.
“To me, this disqualifies her from any future government health position,” said Dr Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Georgetown Center for Global Health Science and Security.
“It’s a terrible message for someone in public health to be sending to the American people.”
Additional reporting by Associated Press