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Birx Says U.S. Coronavirus Epidemic Is in a New Phase


He repeatedly pointed to mask-wearing as perhaps the single-most effective preventive measure in communities experiencing outbreaks. “Wearing a mask is incredibly important but we have to have like 85 or 90 percent of individuals wearing a mask and avoiding crowds,” he said. “That is essentially — gives you the same outcome as a complete shutdown.”

Asked if he was recommending a national mask mandate, Admiral Giroir said, “The public health message is we’ve got to have mask-wearing.” He added: “If we don’t do that, and if we don’t limit the indoor crowded spaces, the virus will continue to run.”

Another guest on CNN on Sunday, Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said that, in many areas where cases are surging, the availability of tests was badly lagging. “In 18, 20 states, the number of tests being done is actually falling and falling because our testing system is under such strain that we just can’t even deliver the test today that we were doing two weeks ago,” he said. “That’s very concerning because when cases are rising, and your number of tests are falling, that’s a recipe for disaster.”

Admiral Giroir defended the nation’s testing program, noting it has exponentially been increased in recent months although there are still delays in getting results. He said that both testing and contact tracing efforts were crucial responses, but not particularly helpful in large, communitywide outbreaks.

“When you have a widespread, multifocal outbreak where many people are asymptomatic, testing and tracing are of limited utility versus public health policy measures like mask-wearing, like closing indoor crowded spaces,” Admiral Giroir said. “So, yes, contact tracing is important, but it’s much less important right now than the public policy mitigation measures.”

The admiral, a pediatrician, cautioned that there was still plenty of disinformation circulating on social media. Decisions by most doctors who prescribe drugs were “evidence-based and not influenced by whatever’s on Twitter or anything else,” he said. Asked about hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug that President Trump continues to promote, Dr. Giroir was firm: “At this point in time, there’s been five randomized control, placebo-controlled trials that do not show any benefit to hydroxychloroquine. So at this point in time, we don’t recommend that as a treatment.”

He added that it was time to “move on” from hydroxychloroquine, and stressed that there are treatments showing more promise. The antiviral drug remdesivir, for example, has been shown to shorten recovery times in severely ill patients, and the steroid dexamethasone lowers the death risk among patients on ventilators. Administration officials have also been promoting the use of convalescent plasma as a potential treatment, although it is still unclear whether it will work against the virus, as well as giving billions of federal dollars to several drug companies that are pursuing vaccines on an accelerated timetable.

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