Dr. Deborah Birx, a leading infectious disease expert on the White House’s coronavirus task force, warned Sunday that social distancing will be a necessary practice through the coming summer.
During an appearance on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” Birx was asked if Vice President Mike Pence’s prediction Friday that the coronavirus epidemic will be largely “behind us” by Memorial Day on May 25 was realistic.
“It gives us great hope when you project out Boston and Chicago and certainly the New York metro, which we’re all still very focused on,” Birx said, slightly dodging the question. “We continue to watch this very closely but that’s where the projections take us.”
She added, however, that “social distancing will be with us through the summer to really ensure that we protect one another as we move through these phases.”
Birx’s statement about social distancing comes as governors weigh whether to begin easing coronavirus restrictions. Over 300 million people across 42 states are under statewide stay-at-home orders as of Sunday.
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump announced a three-phase set of guidelines for reopening parts of the country. States and local officials must confirm a two-week downward trend in new coronavirus cases, as well as ensure adequate hospital capacity, medical supplies and testing capabilities.
So far, three states ― Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina ― have announced plans to at least partially reopen despite not having met the federal government’s suggested criteria for doing so.
Though Trump has encouraged protests of stay-at-home orders — gatherings that have gone against his own guidelines — in three Democratic-led states, public health experts have warned against easing restrictions too soon. On Wednesday, Trump denounced the decision by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) to reopen businesses in that state.
When asked Sunday if she’s concerned that states failing to follow the federal guidelines will reverse the progress that’s been made in curbing the spread of the virus, Birx danced around the question.
“I’ve had really very good conversations with a series of governors and they’ve really been very insightful of how they’re looking at this,” Birx said. “They understand the risk and they talk about this not as turning on a light switch but slowly turning up the dimmer ― very slowly.”
“That’s why these are in phases and each phase carries a very specific piece,” she continued. “To all the American people, please read those phases because it was very clear that if you have preexisting conditions or you’re elderly with preexisting conditions … we strongly recommended that you continue to shelter in place.”