As Americans continue to emerge from quarantines and stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Deborah Birx, one of the leaders of the government’s response to the virus, pinned the success of reopening efforts on the public’s ability to follow the direction of public health experts.
“I think it’s our job as public health officials, every day to be informing the public that what puts them at risk,” said Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday. “We’ve learned a lot about this virus, but we now need to translate that learning into real change behavior that stays with us so we can continue to drive down the number of cases.”
“This only works if we all follow the guidelines and protect one another,” Birx continued.
Her comments come as the United States approaches a grim milestone: 100,000 COVID-19 deaths. The figure is one that early models cited by government officials in the initial weeks of the outbreak indicated might not arrive until late summer or fall.
But despite the ominous total, Birx struck a cautiously optimistic tone Friday during a White House press conference — her first in several weeks — sharing approval of increased public activity over Memorial Day weekend, provided precautionary measures, like social distancing, continue to be adhered to.
“You can go to the beaches if you stay 6 feet apart,” she said. “But remember that is your space, and that is the space you need to protect to ensure you are socially distancing for others.”
The doctor did note, however, that while overall there has been a “dramatic decline” in the percentage of positive test results across the country in the past month, there continue to be spikes in several cities, such as Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
“If there is a heightened number of COVID cases, maybe they wait another week,” she said.
Birx, and fellow coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci, quickly became the public faces of the administration’s response to the pandemic via their regular participation in White House briefings throughout March and April. But as the pair’s public appearances, and the briefings themselves, have waned in quantity in recent weeks, critics have accused Trump of muzzling the advisers, with whom he has sometimes offered conflicting guidance.
One of the topics that has spurred disagreement among health experts is the president’s promotion of hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment or preventative measure. Trump himself took a two-week regimen of the drug that he said was ending this week.
Asked about the president’s use of the medication Friday, Birx repeated warnings from the Food and Drug Administration.
“I think the FDA has been very clear on their website about their concerns about hydroxychloroquine, particularly when it’s combined with a macrolide,” she said, referring to an antibiotic class.
This is a developing news story. Please check back for updates.
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