WASHINGTON - The head of the White House coronavirus task force, Dr. Deborah Birx says she is concerned by the vast numbers of Americans are failing to listen to orders for social distancing.
At least half of the country’s 50 state governors have started to open public spaces, such as parks, golf courses, and some ocean beaches, while allowing shopkeepers and beauty salons to open their doors.
But no U.S. state has met the original White House directive that they see a continuous two-week decline in the number of coronavirus cases before allowing businesses to reopen or people to gather in public places.
Birx told Fox News Sunday that the best advice for Americans was to continue “steady washing of hands” and to “shelter in place.”
She said it was not safe for thousands of people to crowd Pacific Ocean beaches in California on a warm-weather day Saturday.
Birx said that in states where governors have permitted beauty and nail salons to offer services again, it is good that beauticians, manicurists and customers have been wearing masks. But she said their close proximity to each other was still not ideal.
Birx said protests of hundreds of demonstrators that have erupted in some state capitals, such as in Lansing, Michigan, against stay-at-home directives are “devastatingly worrisome to me” because of the crowding of unmasked people.
“If they go home and infect their grandmother or their grandfather who has a co-morbid condition and they have a serious or a very — or an unfortunate outcome, they will feel guilty for the rest of our lives,” she said. “So, we need to protect each other at the same time we’re voicing our discontent.”
Several U.S. drug companies have embarked on an intense effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine by next January.
“On paper, it’s possible,” Birx said of such a deadline, but offered no firm assurances of meeting that timetable.
At a televised town hall Sunday night, U.S. President Donald Trump sat in front of the Lincoln Memorial and said he thinks a vaccine will be available by the end of the year.
Some drugmakers and U.S. medical agencies have already started human tests. But some U.S. health officials have said an effective vaccine probably won’t be ready for another 12 to 18 months.
The coronavirus has already killed more than 66,000 people. Trump has suggested the death toll is near its final number. Birx declined to back off the White House prediction from the early stages of the pandemic that the final death toll would range from 100,000 to 240,000.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves backed off reopening his state’s economy Friday after a one-day spike in the number of coronavirus cases but said he could allow openings to occur if the number of new cases drops again.
“We have a public health crisis,” he told Fox, “but we also have an economic crisis. I feel (the) pain (of businesses) and we’re doing everything we can to restore our economy.”
But in New Jersey with the second biggest number of coronavirus deaths behind New York, Gov. Phil Murphy voiced caution against moving too quickly to fully reopen the state to commerce and recreational activities.
“We’re not out of this yet,” he said. “We’re not in the end zone. I do know we have to make the decisions based on data. We’re just not there yet.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan told CNN, “I think we’re making progress. We’re very anxious to get our state open, but in a safe way.”