Birx warns of “broad surge” across the country

Dr. Deborah Birx warned the nation’s governors on Friday of a “broad surge” of the COVID-19 pandemic across the country as the weather cools, contradicting President Trump’s claim that the U.S. is “rounding the turn.”

Birx, the White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, said on a call that nearly one-third of the nation is in a COVID-19 hot spot, and things aren’t getting any better as people turn to indoor activities. 

“This is a broad surge across every state where it is cooling,” Birx said. “… We’re learning from the far north about how dramatic that spread can be, and we do not see yet improvements in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota or Wisconsin.” 

The pandemic will only plateau if “every single person in your states” takes wearing masks, social distancing and hygiene seriously, Birx said on the call, which was obtained by CBS News. She told governors that people must decrease indoor gatherings with family and friends. The goal is to “form a bridge of human behavior change over the next few weeks,” she said. 

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump has been flouting his own task force’s guidelines, holding rallies with thousands of people and scoffing at Minnesota’s 250-person limit for a rally on Friday. Mr. Trump’s language on COVID-19 has become, if anything, less cautious after he won his battle against the virus with the aid of the country’s best medical treatment. On Friday, he called Fox News host Laura Ingraham “politically correct” for wearing a mask. 

Even as the pandemic rages across the country, the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force has become less visible and less active. “Nothing of substance” is happening with the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force, but the president doesn’t want to deal with the bad press of disbanding the group, so it continues, even if only symbolically, according to a source familiar with the situation. The task force now only meets once a week. 

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows acknowledged Sunday what everyone on the task force already knew — the Trump administration is “not going to control the pandemic,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The source familiar with the situation said there is significant concern that Dr. Scott Atlas is telling Mr. Trump what he wants to hear — that Americans can reopen the country and simply protect people in nursing homes, when in fact 30% to 40% of the overall population is vulnerable to severe consequences of infection because of age and underlying conditions. 

This week, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar ran the Coronavirus Task Force meeting because Vice President Mike Pence, whose inner circle has been infected with COVID-19, was on the campaign trail. Pence declined to quarantine even though the people around him who were infected constituted “close contacts” under the Centers for Disease Control guidelines. Most members of the task force are participating in meetings virtually these days. 

The source familiar said Atlas joins meetings occasionally, but he has not been talking much during the meetings. Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force’s coordinator, has been on the road, but she calls into most meetings. She’s been traveling the country to work with localities and spread the message of masks, social distancing and personal hygiene. 

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