Trump Opposes Lockdown in Virus Surge But Birx Urges Vigilance

Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, urged Americans to be vigilant as the pandemic surges across the country, but Vice President Mike Pence said President Donald Trump opposes lockdowns and closing schools to curb the spread of the virus.

The task force briefed reporters Thursday at the White House for the first time since April, after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended earlier that Americans cancel Thanksgiving travel plans. Together, the events showed the administration coming to grips with the pandemic’s rising caseload and death toll after Trump downplayed the outbreak in the weeks leading to the outbreak.

New cases have routinely exceeded 150,000 per day since last week, and the U.S. recorded 1,885 deaths from Covid-19 on Wednesday alone.

Task force members didn’t take questions and Trump himself did not appear at the briefing. The president, who has seldom been seen in public since losing re-election earlier this month, is mounting a legal and public relations effort to overturn the outcome.

“Every American needs to be vigilant in this moment because we know when you are, we can stop this spread together,” Birx said. She also advised Americans to limit in-person gatherings to people they live with, with the Thanksgiving holiday a week away.

Trump Opposes Lockdown in Virus Surge But Birx Urges Vigilance

Birx urged Americans to wear masks and practice social distancing, two precautions that have been discouraged by the president and his closest medical adviser, Scott Atlas, who did not participate in the briefing.

Many governors have issued mask mandates and ordered restricted occupancy at businesses as cases and hospitalizations rise. New York City said Wednesday it would close its schools.

Pence said that Trump had told him to to make clear that the task force “does not support another national lockdown” and “we do not support closing schools.”

“We do not need to close our schools,” Pence added.

Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC, said evidence has shown that the virus is spreading inside homes more than in schools.

“The infections that we’ve identified in schools, when they’ve been evaluated, were not acquired in schools. They were actually acquired in the community and in the household,” he said. “The truth is for kids K-12, one of the safest places they can be from our perspective is to remain in school.”

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has endured periodic criticism from Trump, said that “we’re not talking about shutting down the country, we’re not talking about locking down.”

“We’re talking about intensifying the simple public-health measures that we all talk about: mask-wearing, saving distance, avoiding congregant settings, doing things to the extent that we can outdoors versus indoors,” he said.

He said those practices would “hold off” the virus until vaccines are available. A pair of vaccines that preliminary clinical trials have shown to be highly effective, by Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., are nearing Food and Drug Administration approval.

“If you’re fighting a battle and the cavalry is on the on the way, you don’t stop shooting,” Fauci said. “You keep going until the cavalry gets here and then you might even want to continue fighting.”

General Gustave Perna, chief operations officer for Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s program to accelerate vaccine development, said initial distribution of millions of the shots would be complete within 24 hours after FDA approval.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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