WASHINGTON — Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, sounded a dire alarm on Sunday amid spiking Covid-19 cases across America as she expressed frustration with government officials who ignore public health guidance as caseloads and deaths rise.
Speaking during an interview on NBC News' “Meet the Press,” Birx said that it’s especially frustrating to see governors and local officials refuse to enact the same mitigation strategies they used to successfully curb the virus’ spread in the summer.
“Right now, across the Sunbelt, we have governors and mayors who have cases equivalent to what they had in the summertime, yet aren’t putting in the same policies and mitigations that they put in the summer that they know changed the course of this pandemic,” Birx said.
“This is the worst event that this country will face not just from a public health side, yet we know what behaviors spread the virus and we know how to change those behaviors to stop spreading the virus.”
Government leaders have sent conflicting messages on the virus since it hit American shores: while public health officials have been fighting to help convince Americans to take the threat of the virus seriously and calling for an aggressive commitment to mitigation efforts, President Donald Trump has repeatedly questioned both the severity of the virus and public health guidance meant to combat its spread.
Birx, who has spent much of the year traveling to different communities as part of the attempt to fight the virus, added that she hears regularly from people all over the country who are mimicking “myths” downplaying the seriousness of it.
“I hear community members parroting back those situations, parroting back that masks don’t work, parroting back that we should work toward herd immunity, parroting back that gatherings don’t result in super-spreading events,” She said.
“And I think our job is to constantly say those are myths, they are wrong, and you can see the evidence base.”
While Birx did not directly address the president’s message, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who joined “Meet the Press” shortly after Birx, did.
He said that while most in government are “taking this more serious, the president is not, as part of his political posturing. It’s very dangerous, it’s extremely dangerous.”
Infections have accelerated across the country around the holiday season — new, daily caseloads have repeatedly surpassed 200,000 in recent days, with more than 2,200 new daily deaths each of the last few days. Overall, there has been 14.7 million coronavirus cases in America and 282,00 deaths, according to an NBC News analysis.
The new influx in cases has caused new strain on both the nation’s hospital and testing systems, and areas have begun implementing new stay-at-home orders in the hopes of easing that strain and blunting the accelerated spread of the virus.
Despite warnings from public health officials not to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday, airports broke pandemic-era records as many appeared to still be gathering. Birx said that America will likely see the repercussions of those gatherings in the next week or two and cautioned that Americans cannot continue with the same mindset that they took to Thanksgiving travel.
“Every state across this country needs to increase their mitigation and every state needs to be critically informing their state population that the gatherings we saw in Thanksgiving will lead to a surge, it will happen this week and next week,” she said.
“We cannot go into the holiday season — Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza — with the same kind of attitude that: ‘Those gatherings don’t apply to me.’ They apply to everyone, if you don’t want to lose your grandparents, your aunt.”