WASHINGTON - The White House Coronavirus Task Force response coordinator said social distancing practices will need to continue through the summer to ensure the safety of Americans amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Social distancing will be with us through the summer to really ensure that we protect one another as we move through these phases," Dr. Deborah Birx said Sunday during an appearance on "Meet the Press."
Her comments came after Vice President Mike Pence said last week during an appearance on Geraldo Rivera’s radio show that he thinks the coronavirus pandemic could be “largely” behind us by Memorial Day weekend.
“If you look at the trends today, I think by Memorial Day Weekend we will largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us,” said Pence, who is chair of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. “State and local officials will begin to reopen activities, you’re going to see states ahead here begin to do that.”
When asked about Pence’s comments, Birx said health officials are now tracking “every single outbreak in the United States separately,” rather than models based on data from around the world — which has shown promise for the country’s direction as it works to contain COVID-19.
“If you look at these outbreaks over time and you look at places like Louisiana, if you look at Houston, if you look at Detroit, and you look at how they've reached their peak and come down and what those cases look like as they come down, it gives us great hope when you project out Boston and Chicago and certainly the New York metro — which we're all very still focused on," Birx said.
Several states have started loosening restrictions on businesses, including Georgia, Oklahoma and Alaska, despite warnings from experts that such steps might be premature. Birx, who helped lead the influential HIV vaccine trial known as RV 144, said she’s spoken to governors across the country about reopening.
"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."
Birx also responded to President Donald Trump’s recent remarks about whether disinfectant or light could be a possible treatment for the novel coronavirus, which he later claimed were sarcastic.
"I think I made it very clear in how I interpreted that. I also made it very clear, and so has Dr. Fauci and everyone associated with the task force, in their clarity around this is not a treatment,” Birx said, referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
But Birx went on to explain that she was “reassured” by a Department of Homeland Security study on what impacts sunlight, heat and humidity could have on COVID-19.
“That should be encouraging to all of us. We should still social distance. We should still wear those masks to protect others as we work through this epidemic, but I think it’s really important to see that sunlight, direct sunlight, may actually be able to kill the virus,” Birx said.
This story was reported from Cincinnati.