Fox News anchor Chris Wallace pressed White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx on the rising coronavirus death count, asking Birx if the Trump administration has “underestimated” the strength of the virus as it rushes to fully reopen the economy.
With all 50 states now at least partially reopened amid the pandemic and people flocking to beaches and parks to enjoy the Memorial Day weekend, the Fox News Sunday host noted that models have increasingly upped their projections of COVID-19 deaths as states ease social-distancing restrictions.
“Early this coming week we’re going to reach 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus and those models that you’re citing now talk about close to 150,000 deaths by August,” Wallace wondered aloud. “What happened, doctor?”
Birx brought up initial projections that showed that up to 2.4 million Americans could perish if no actions were taken, which also predicted up to 240,000 deaths with stay-at-home orders implemented. “Those are the figures we continue to stand by in this first wave,” she added.
“But to press it a little bit, a month ago, you are saying we were going to come down below the low end of the model, which is 100- to 240,000, to 60,000,” Wallace fired back. “So I guess my question is, in this last month, did you underestimate the strength of the virus, did we reopen too soon, did we reopen without sufficient restrictions?”
Somewhat deflecting, Birx said the task force has used “different models” all along to understand not just what is happening in the United States but other countries that have been hit hard by the virus.
“We understand that our mortality rates are less than those three countries and that’s really due to the incredible work of our front-line hospital workers,” she continued. “But we understand that these number of infections has led to this level of mortality and our job now going forward is to do everything we can to prevent additional hospitalizations and additional mortality.”
Wallace took that opportunity to bring up videos and images of big Memorial Day crowds at beaches and events, asking Birx—who said last week that Americans could go to beaches if they stayed socially distant—if she was concerned as to what she was seeing.
“Well, you know, last time we spoke I was concerned about people coming together without masks even during the protests and now I’m very concerned when people go out and don’t maintain social distancing,” she replied.
During a separate interview on ABC’s This Week, Birx was asked by host Martha Raddatz whether she thought opening up these spaces was appropriate in hindsight.
“I think it’s our job as public health officials every day to be informing the public of what puts them at risk,” Birx answered. “And we’ve made it clear that there’s asymptomatic spread.”
“So we really want to be clear all the time that social distancing is absolutely critical,” she continued. “And if you can’t social distance and you’re outside, you must wear a mask.”
When Raddatz pointed out that social distancing and mask-wearing was not being witnessed at these packed spaces, Birx shrugged and merely replied that it is “our job to continue to communicate” that it is important to socially distance in these “different venues.”