SAN JOSE (CBS SF / CNN) — White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx privately told a group of state and local health officials Wednesday about a concerning rise in coronavirus cases in 12 U.S. cities, including San Jose. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump continues to tout progress amid the coronavirus pandemic at scripted, on-message briefings this week.
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“There are cities that are lagging behind and we have new increases in Miami, New Orleans, Las Vegas, San Jose, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Baltimore, so we’re tracking this very closely. We’re working with the state officials to make sure we’re responding together, but when you first see that increased test positivity, that is when to start the mitigation efforts,” Birx said during the call according to audio obtained by journalism nonprofit Center for Public Integrity.
Birx’s comments come as officials in Santa Clara County issued worrying predictions about the future of the pandemic. On Tuesday, Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said a lack of a unified national response could mean the pandemic lasting for many months.
“As the epidemic grows, it’s obviously impacting every single person in our county and every facet of our lives, we all need to pull together and dedicate ourselves to crushing it once again,” Cody told the County Board of Supervisors.
The following day, County Executive Dr. Jeff Smith told KPIX 5 that he projects a spike in COVID-19 cases alongside the flu in the fall and warned that the lingering effects could be felt for years.
“We’re not even near the end of the problem,” Smith said.
At least two of the cities Birx mentioned as an area of concern, Baltimore and New Orleans, were not invited to the call and were not aware it was happening, two sources familiar with the call tell CNN. Earlier Wednesday, Baltimore city officials announced a decision to enforce mandatory mask wearing and restrict indoor dining, a decision they based on their own independent data. However, the health department has not seen or heard about any report or list categorizing Baltimore as one of these cities of concern until media reached out following the call, one source said.
“The administration holds frequent calls with local, state, and tribal leaders. There have been more than 320 of these calls with more than 150,000 participants,” task force spokesman Devin O’Malley said.
On the call, Birx continued, “I know it may look small, and you may say that only went from five to five and a half, and we’re going to wait and see what happens. If you wait another three to four, even five, days, you’ll start to see a dramatic increase in cases. So finding and tracing those very early individuals is really critical.”
Birx told the officials in places experiencing increased test positivity to “(make) sure they’re being aggressive about mitigation efforts,” noting that the administration provides governors with a weekly report with clear recommendations for mitigation.
One such report, also obtained by CPI last week, recommended that 18 states the task force-defined “red zone” for cases should roll back reopening measures amid surging cases. Those reports are not made publicly available.
Birx told the officials Wednesday there are “small glimmers of decreasing test positivity in many of our metros in Texas and of course in Phoenix,” but the task force has “deep concerns about specific metros, of course in Florida, and spreading epidemic in California into the Central Valley.”
Her comments come as the US is poised to surpass 4 million confirmed coronavirus cases, overwhelming many hospitals and labs around the country. The US reported more Covid-19 cases in the last two weeks — 915,000 — than it did for all of June.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and another member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, warned Wednesday that the US is “certainly not at the end of the game,” with a series of baseball metaphors.
“I’m not even sure we’re halfway through. I mean, obviously, if you want to do a score, I don’t want to get too cute about it but certainly we are not winning the game right now, we are not leading it,” Fauci said during a livestream Q&A with nonprofit TB Alliance.
A White House spokesman said Birx’s comments were in line with Trump’s briefing remarks on Wednesday.
“This doesn’t deviate from what the President said yesterday. The virus is still with us, we have some states and metros with significant outbreaks, and we must take this incredibly seriously,” deputy press secretary Judd Deere told CNN.
Trump said Tuesday that the pandemic will “probably, unfortunately get worse before it gets better.”
But he cherry-picked some of the more hopeful aspects of the pandemic in his briefings and declined to appear alongside his top public health officials, telling reporters that appearing solo at the podium was a “very concise way of doing it.”
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