Donald Trump listens as Dr Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Coordinator, speaks (File)
As cases and deaths surge in the US, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus coordinator, saysthe country is in a “new phase” of the pandemic.
Birx told CNN that the outbreak has moved out of the cities which were initial epicenters: “What we are seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread. So everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune.”
She recommended that people in surge areas were a mask at home if they live with someone who is vulnerable because of age or underlying medical conditions.
Birx’s warning is notable because she has often covered for Donald Trump’s lack of knowledge and his disinformation during the crisis. However, she now joins Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s top infectious diseases expert, in warning that the US is “still in the first wave” of the pandemic with a “very disturbing” prospect of a high death toll.
Trump and his inner circle have spent weeks trying to undermine and discredit Fauci, with Trump tweet-shouting on Saturday at the doctor, “Wrong!” and repeating his false claim that the surge is solely due to more testing.
The US death toll rose on Sunday to 154,860. Confirmed cases are now 4,667,955.
Fauci indicated to a House committee last Thursday that the US failure to contain the virus was due to the quick “reopening” demanded by Trump, for his re-election, of businesses, schools, and other public spaces.
Birx avoided any criticism of re-opening yesterday. Instead, she said, “If you have an outbreak in your rural area or in your city, you need to really consider wearing a mask at home, assuming that you’re positive if you have individuals in your household with co-morbidities.”
Adm. Brett Giroir, the Assistant Health and Human Services Secretary who has tried to play down issues with testing, echoed the message, “Wearing a mask is incredibly important, but we have to have like 85 or 90 percent of individuals wearing a mask and avoiding crowds.”
Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, focused on the failure to return tests quickly, enabling containment of the virus:
In 18, 20 states, the number of tests being done is actually falling and falling because our testing system is under such strain that we just can’t even deliver the test today that we were doing two weeks ago. That’s very concerning because when cases are rising, and your number of tests are falling, that’s a recipe for disaster.
Giroir did push back Trump’s promotion of the ineffective and potentially dangerous drug hydroxychloroquine, “At this point in time we don’t recommend that as a treatment. There’s no evidence to show that it is [effective].”
No Deal on Extending Unemployment Benefits
There was no weekend deal to extend unemployment benefits, which expired Friday, for more than 20 million Americans who lost jobs because of the pandemic.
Sources said a Saturday meeting between Administration officials and legislators, in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was the most productive in recent days. However, division continues over how to revive the lapsed benefits and how broad the deal should be.
Republican Senators, in their $1 trillion package are proposing a 67% reduction in benefit to $200/week. House Democrats, who have passed a $3 trillion rescue bill, want extension of the $600/week to the end of 2020.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said on Sunday, “We still have a long ways to go. I’m not optimistic that there will be a solution in the very near term.”
Pelosi said Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are still reluctant to commit to a strategic health plan, as set out in the House “HEROES” bill, or to address the needs of American families.
Pelosi noted, “They are subjecting somebody who gets $600 to scrutiny that they aren’t subjecting someone who gets millions of dollars under the PPP [Payments Protection Plan for businesses].”
Citing studies, she summarized, “This is keeping people out of poverty….This is essential for working families.”
Mnuchin was hesitant about committing to a substantial rescue package:
We have to balance — there’s obviously a need to support workers, to support the economy, people who through no fault of their own are shut down because of this terrible disease. On the other hand, we have to be careful about not piling on enormous amounts of debt for future generations.