White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said she’s frustrated that viral covid-19 “myths” like those spread by the president and other high-profile politicians continue to undermine public perception about the severity of covid-19, even now eight months into the pandemic after the virus has killed more than 281,000 people in America.
In an interview on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Birx recounted how she’s visited communities nationwide this year to help plan how to fight the virus. Medical professionals on the frontlines told her they’re still struggling to convince people to wear masks and practice social distancing, among other basic health precautions, to curb the spread of the virus. But many government and local officials are sending mixed signals by flouting public guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal health agencies at a time when the U.S. is reporting more covid-19 cases than almost ever before.
“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 told the outlet. Though it was a virtual interview, she wore a face mask in accordance with new CDC recommendations to wear masks at all times when you’re outside your home. The agency updated its guidelines on Friday and said the pandemic had entered a phase of “high level transmission” in the U.S.
When the pandemic first peaked earlier this year, many states issued stay-at-home orders, face mask mandates, limits on gathering sizes, and other measures to keep the virus from spreading. However, that diligence has gradually worn away in some regions amid pressure from President Donald Trump and his government stooges to return to business as usual.
The effects have been obvious. The U.S. reported more than 1 million new covid-19 cases in just five days this week, and on Wednesday it set a grim new record for its single-worst daily death toll at 2,760. America leads the world in covid-19 cases with more than 14.6 million. The CDC warns that the next three months may be “the most difficult time” in the country’s public health history, and the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has warned people against traveling for the holidays, which could spread the virus and lead to more case spikes.
Trump’s insistence on politicizing basic scientific facts has also hampered public perception about the pandemic’s severity because the line of thinking goes, “if the president isn’t taking this whole virus thing seriously, then why should I?” Particularly in the early months of the pandemic, the president and his team repeatedly contradicted the CDC about the efficacy of face masks for slowing the virus’ spread and spouted such outrageous claims about potential coronavirus cures that people began misting themselves with bleach because, well, the president said it could work so why not?
“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,” Birx said. “And I think our job is to constantly say those are myths, they are wrong, and you can see the evidence base.”
This should all really be a no-brainer at this point, she continued:
“We know what behaviors spread the virus and we know how to change those behaviors to stop spreading the virus... We have to listen right now to what we know works, which is masks, physical distancing, and washing your hands.”
As bad as things are, they’re only likely to get worse after Christmas. According to the Associated Press, vehicle traffic on Thanksgiving Day this year was only about 5% less than in 2019, and we’re already starting to see case tallies spike after all this travel. Most Americans seem unwilling to forego their holiday get-together even if there is a pandemic raging.
“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,” Birx told NBC. “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.”
President-elect Joe Biden has promised to enforce stricter coronavirus guidelines once he takes office in January, such as issuing a face mask mandate in federal jurisdiction and asking the public to wear face masks for the first 100 days of his presidency, among others.