August 3, 2020

Should you wear a face mask—even at home? Here's what Deborah Birx just said.

Daily Briefing

    Some public health experts are calling for a nationwide lockdown or plan to "reset" America's response to its coronavirus epidemic, as Deborah Birx, who is coordinating the White House's coronavirus task force, on Sunday warned that the epidemic has entered a "new phase" with "widespread" transmission throughout the country.

    The 3 biggest clashes over mandatory face masks

    US new coronavirus cases surpass 4.6M, deaths top 155K

    Birx's warning comes as America's coronavirus epidemic settled into a new peak in recent weeks, with officials reporting an average of nearly 65,000 new coronavirus cases per day—about double the average number of new cases the country had reported each day during the epidemic's previous peak in the spring.

    In July, the United States reported more than 1.9 million new coronavirus cases, which is more than double the number of cases reported in any other month since the country's epidemic began. In addition, the number of newly reported coronavirus cases reported in the United States in July equals nearly 42% of the country's total number of cases reported since the epidemic began, the New York Times reports.

    As of Monday morning, U.S. officials had reported a total of 4,679,700 cases of the novel coronavirus since the country's epidemic first began—up from 4,502,500 cases reported as of Friday morning.

    Data from the Times shows that Puerto Rico; Washington, D.C.; and 15 states saw their average daily numbers of newly reported coronavirus cases rise over the past 14 days: Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

    Last week, California became the first state to report a total of more than 500,000 cases of the novel coronavirus since America's epidemic began. Overall, nine states—Hawaii, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee—last week reported record-high single-day increases in their numbers of new coronavirus cases, Axios reports.

    The Times' data shows that the average daily numbers of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past two weeks remained mostly stable in Guam and 29 states: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

    The U.S. Virgin Islands and six states—Arizona, Florida, Idaho, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah—saw their average daily numbers of newly confirmed cases decrease over the past 14 days, according to the Times' data.

    Meanwhile, growth in America's national coronavirus-related death rate has been rising.

    According to the Times' data, Puerto Rico and 29 states saw their average daily numbers of newly reported deaths linked to the coronavirus rise over the past 14 days: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

    Two states—California and Florida—last week reported record-high single-day increases in their numbers of deaths linked to the coronavirus. Overall, officials as of Monday morning had reported 155,336 U.S. deaths linked to the new coronavirus—up from 152,431 deaths reported as of Friday morning.

    White House officials warn coronavirus 'is more widespread'

    During an interview on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday, Birx said America's coronavirus epidemic has entered a "new phase," with the country experiencing more widespread transmission of the pathogen than it had during the epidemic's previous peak in the spring.

    "This epidemic right now is different and it's more widespread," Birx said. "What we are seeing today is different from March and April," with the coronavirus now spreading throughout "both rural and urban" regions of the United States.

    Birx said all Americans should take precautions to protect themselves against the virus. "To everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune or protected from this virus," she said.

    Further, Birx said some Americans may want to wear face masks or coverings in their homes to prevent potentially transmitting the coronavirus to vulnerable individuals in their households. "If you're in multi-generational households, and there's 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 households with comorbidities."

    Separately, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir, who currently is serving as the Trump administration's coronavirus testing czar, during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday urged Americans to wear face coverings, wash their hands, and avoid crowded indoor spaces to prevent the new coronavirus' spread.

    "Wearing a mask is incredibly important but we have to have like 85% or 90% of individuals wearing a mask and avoiding crowds," Giroir said.

    Giroir on Sunday also noted that testing Americans for the coronavirus and conducting contact tracing are important for helping the country contain the new coronavirus. However, during a hearing conducted by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis on Friday, Giroir acknowledged there are testing shortages and delays throughout the country, and he said that ensuring all Americans get coronavirus test results within two to three days "is not a possible benchmark we can achieve today." Giroir said, currently, about 59% of coronavirus test results are coming back within three days and about 76% are coming back within five days. "I'm sure there's an outlier at 12 to 16 days because that happens but that's very atypical," he said.

    Public health experts call for nationwide lockdown, plan to 'reset' coronavirus response

    As the coronavirus has continued to spread throughout the United States at a quick pace, some public health experts are calling on U.S. officials to implement a nationwide lockdown or new plan to "reset" the country's response to the epidemic, the Washington Post reports.

    For instance, the Association of American Medical Colleges in a report released last week warned that, "[i]f the nation does not change its course—and soon—deaths in the United States could be well into the multiple hundreds of thousands." The group in the report laid out a road map with "11 evidence-based actions—both immediate and long-term—set forth as a comprehensive, coordinated plan" to "reset the nation's approach to the" epidemic.

    Separately, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in a study published Thursday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said a national strategy led by the federal government or states would more effectively contain the new coronavirus' spread than America's current approach, which involves a patchwork of policies at the federal, state, and local levels.

    "The cost of our uncoordinated national response to Covid-19, it's dramatic," said Sinan Aral, an MIT economist and senior author of the study.

    Likewise, Johns Hopkins University in a report released last week said, "Unlike many countries in the world, the United States is not currently on course to get control of this epidemic. It's time to reset." The report stated, "The Covid-19 pandemic is a challenge far beyond what any one state, territory, or community can handle alone. It is only our collective action that will generate the change necessary to regain control of this epidemic, avoid cascading crises in our health care system and economy, and save great numbers of lives throughout the United States."

    Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a House hearing on Friday, said the Trump administration's decision to allow states to lead their own responses to the coronavirus epidemic resulted in a patchwork of stay-at-home orders and other measures intended to curb the coronavirus' spread, which ultimately contributed to America's inability to address the epidemic.

    And some experts have said the country should now enter a full, six-to-eight-week national lockdown that is more sweeping than the measures states had implemented in the spring, similar to those that were imposed in other countries that have curbed their coronavirus outbreaks, the Post reports.

    Neel Kashkari, president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, during an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday said, "If we don't do that and we just have this raging virus spreading throughout the country with flare-ups and local lockdowns for the next year or two, which is entirely possible, we're going to see many, many more business bankruptcies" (Rummler, Axios, 8/2; Bosman et al., New York Times, 8/1; Yu, Wall Street Journal, 8/1; Burnside/Hanna, CNN, 7/31; Stracqualursi, CNN, 8/2; Carey, New York Times, 8/2; Stolberg/Wu, New York Times, 7/31; Achenbach et al., Washington Post, 8/1; Ahmann, Reuters, 8/2; Ollstein, Politico, 7/31; New York Times, 8/2; New York Times, 8/3; AAMC report, accessed 8/3; Johns Hopkins University report, 7/29).

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