Of course you've noticed Deborah Birx's style. That's why it's so reassuring.

Of course you've noticed Deborah Birx's style. That's why it's so reassuring.

By 
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The diplomatic doctor was missing from the weekend coronavirus task force briefings. Deborah Birx, the task force coordinator, was not in her usual position, behind the lectern and to President Trump’s left. She was not there with her calm expression and her talk of the need to get granular and her explanation that the seeds for everything happening now were planted fourteen days ago and we won’t see any fruits of social distancing for another week or so. She was not there with her soothing directness, reassuring competence and a style of dress that distinguishes her from all the suits and the bureaucrats who usually stand alongside her.

Birx had had a low-grade fever, she explained on Monday evening when she returned to the stage. So she’d stayed away. She had taken one of those elusive coronavirus tests and it came back negative. As she explained this to the small group of assembled journalists, the president stepped away from her with a wry smile at the mention of a fever. She shrugged off his move with an eye roll and a wave, the way a patient parent might deal with a rambunctious child.

 Birx is part of the president's ecosystem but projects independence. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Birx is part of the president's ecosystem but projects independence. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Birx isn’t the only medical professional regularly in front of the television cameras. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is typically there, too. The diminutive immunologist with the gray hair and the wire-rimmed glasses usually stands next to Birx. The medical community has had a rocky relationship with the prickly president who often attempts to create his own reality rather than deal with the fact-based one. Fauci delivers the facts raw and keeps faith that they can rise above politics. Birx at least acknowledges that sometimes her audience needs a little hand-holding to choke down the truth.

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