The head of the White House coronavirus task force, Dr Deborah Birx, has warned that 11 major cities – including Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Baltimore – need to take ‘aggressive’ steps to mitigate COVID-19 outbreaks.
Dr Birx issued the grave warning on Wednesday during a phone call with hundreds of state and city leaders.
The 11 cities she mentioned include: Baltimore, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Miami, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and St Louis.
Dr Birx warned that the outbreak currently plaguing cities in Sunbelt states, like Phoenix and San Antonio, was now moving north, according to audio of the call obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.
‘What started out very much as a southern and western epidemic is starting to move up the East Coast into Tennessee, Arkansas, up into Missouri, up across Colorado, and obviously we’re talking about increases now in Baltimore,’ she said.
‘So this is really critical that everybody is following this and making sure they’re being aggressive about mitigation efforts.’
She warned leaders of the 11 cities that they should take ‘aggressive’ steps in order to stem their current outbreaks.
Dr Birx said it was vital for health officials to contract trace patients testing positive in areas where test positivity was increasing.
‘When you first see that increase in test positivity, that is when to start the mitigation efforts,’ she said.
‘I know it may look small and you may say, ‘That only went from 5 to 5-and-a-half [percent], and we’re gonna wait and see what happens’. If you wait another three or four or even five days, you’ll start to see a dramatic increase in cases.’
Her warning came as the total number of coronavirus cases reported in the United States passed 4 million on Thursday, reflecting a rapid acceleration of infections in the country since the first case was recorded on January 21.
It took the country 98 days to reach 1 million cases but just 16 days to go from 3 million to 4 million.
The case total indicates that at least one in 82 people in the United States have been infected.
As the pandemic has spread from the early epicenter of New York to the South and West, federal, state and local officials have clashed over how to ease lockdowns imposed to curb the infection rate, including in some states whether to rollback reopenings.
The ordering of face coverings, a common practice around the world and recommended by the federal government’s own health experts, has also become highly politicized, with some Republican governors particularly resistant.
Hostility to the idea appeared to be dwindling this week, including from the Republican administration of President Donald Trump, who once dismissed mask-wearing as an effort to be politically correct.
Trump, who faces falling poll numbers over his handling of the health crisis ahead of the November election, has long refused to wear a mask in public but this week encouraged Americans to do so.
While Trump did not issue a national mandate, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir on Thursday cited the importance of masks to bring the virus under control.
‘We have to do our mitigation steps: wear a mask, avoid the crowds. We won’t see hospitalizations and deaths go down for a couple of weeks because (they are) lagging indicators, but we are turning that tide,’ Giroir told Fox News Network.
He also said the time it currently takes to get coronavirus test results back needs to be reduced.