White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx expressed concern on Sunday about the numerous anti-shutdown protests flaring up across the country, saying it was “devastatingly worrisome” that the protesters weren’t practicing social distancing or wearing masks.
Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Birx was first pressed by anchor Chris Wallace to react to states quickly moving to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic despite not meeting the guidelines set by the White House coronavirus task force.
“Why not set a firm, if not binding, a firm national policy on when states can reopen?” Wallace wondered aloud, prompting Birx to reply they’ve made it possible for states to open up localities independently of the entire state.
After the Fox News host confronted Birx on the “mixed message” that’s being sent when governors aren’t observing the task force guidelines before reopening, he went on to bring up images of crowded beaches in California this past week.
“Simple question, is that safe?” Wallace asked.
“If it’s done with social distancing, yes,” Birx responded. “If it’s not done with social distancing, no.”
The Fox anchor noted “there was no social distancing,” adding that this was the reason the California governor closed those beaches. Wallace then shifted his attention to numerous states allowing hair salons and spas to open back up, asking whether it was currently safe if customers and workers are both wearing masks.
“It’s safer, but we’ve made it clear that that is not a good Phase One activity and I think the president has made that clear when he discussed the case in Georgia,” Birx reacted, referencing President Donald Trump’s winking criticism of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s reopen plans.
“Let me ask about one more activity,” Wallace pivoted. “Big crowds of protesters that went into the Michigan state capitol without masks, massing together in close quarters. I’m not asking you about the First Amendment right to protest that of course they have, but from a public health standpoint, is that safe?”
“It’s devastatingly worrisome to me personally because if they go home and they infect their grandmother or grandfather who has a comorbid condition and they have a serious or very unfortunate outcome, they will feel guilty for the rest of their lives,” Birx said. “So we need to protect each other at the same time as we’re voicing our discontent.”
Last week, hundreds of angry anti-lockdown demonstrators—some of them armed—crowded inside the Michigan State House without adhering to social distancing guidelines or wearing masks, demanding that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer immediately open the state’s businesses back up.
The president, meanwhile, stood up for the protesters, describing them as “very good people” while calling on Whitmer to “see them, talk to them, make a deal.”
Many pro-Trump commentators have recently begun to push back against mask-wearing, claiming it is largely an instrument of government oppression and a plot to scare the American people.
“The masks, they’re kind of a constant reminder,” Fox News host Laura Ingraham said last week. “You see the mask and you think you’re not safe, you are not back to normal—not even close.”