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Dr. Deborah Birx Says Social Distancing Must Continue Through Summer Months

Newsweek logo Newsweek 4/26/2020 Benjamin Fearnow

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White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said social distancing will continue through the summer months, noting that many governors understand the process of reopening must be very gradual.

Birx responded Sunday morning to Vice President Mike Pence's prediction last week that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic will largely be over by Memorial Day after Meet the Press host Chuck Todd incredulously asked: "This Memorial Day 2020? Is that realistic?" The immunology and global health expert said current U.S. tracking models "give us great hope" that COVID-19 cases and deaths will be waning by the May 25 holiday weekend. But she said social distancing practices must be maintained through the entire summer to help prevent any potential outbreaks of COVID-19.

"I think [Pence] means in the models and in tracking our actual data, because previously we were using models based on data around the world, and now we're very much tracking every single outbreak in the United States separately," Birx said Sunday. "And if you look at those outbreaks over time and you look at places like Louisiana, if you look at Houston, if you look at Detroit and how they've reached their peak and come down and what those cases look like as they come down -- it gives us great hope."

"Social distancing will be with us through the summer to really ensure that we protect one another as we move through these phases," Birx added, referencing Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer.

Birx recommended that Americans with pre-existing conditions, the elderly and others exposed to "risk factors" should continue to shelter-in-place over the next several months. "[They should make sure] that anybody they interact with are also following the social distancing guidelines very carefully."

Todd repeatedly questioned whether the relaxing of social distancing guidelines by several states this week may lead to the country "losing all the ground that we've gained over the last six weeks." Birx said she has spoken with state leaders and governors who are in agreement that the reopening of businesses and public venues must be a gradual process.

"They talk about this not as turning on a light switch but slowly turning up the dimmer," Birx said.

Pence, speaking Friday on Geraldo Rivera's Cleveland radio show, offered his latest prediction for when he believes coronavirus cases and deaths will have primarily subsided from the peak numbers seen earlier this month. "I think honestly, if you look at the trends today, that I think by Memorial Day weekend we will largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us."

Birx noted that reopening and relaxing of protective social distancing guidelines will vary by locality, pointing out that New York "still has 45 percent or so of the cases in the entire United States."


Last week, President Donald Trump told reporters at a White House coronavirus press briefing that he is declining to offer up specific dates or predictions about when the country should reopen, claiming the "fake news" always misconstrues his words.

Speaking with Fox News on Saturday evening, Birx said she expects coronavirus deaths will be "dramatically decreased" a month from now at the end of May. But she warned that asymptomatic carriers remain a concern for tracking purposes.

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