2020-08-03 04:55:25 UTC
(CNN) Donald Trump's top government experts now say that the pandemic is
entering a new phase as it invades the rural heartland -- and they can't say how
long it will last.
With millions of kids nowhere near going back to school and the economy reeling
from a 32.9% annualized contraction in the second quarter, the months ahead are
stretching into what looks like an endless crisis as Trump tweets "Make America
Great Again" and spends his weekends on the golf course.
Top administration officials in recent days have repeatedly delivered
information and warnings that directly contradict Trump's upbeat messaging on
Friday on the virus: "We'll get rid of it, we'll beat it, and it will be soon."
Amid this grim outlook, the administration and Capitol Hill Democrats are
deadlocked on a plan to extend federal unemployment payments to millions of
Americans who lost their jobs in lockdowns.
Dr. Deborah Birx delivered a series of stunning warnings on CNN's "State of the
Union" five months into a pandemic that the President once said posed no threat
to Americans but has now killed more than 150,000 of them.
"What we are seeing today is different from March and April. It is
extraordinarily widespread. It's into the rural as equal urban areas," Birx, the
White House coronavirus task force coordinator, told CNN's Dana Bash.
Birx even suggested that some Americans in multi-generational families should
start wearing masks in their home and assume that they already have the disease.
She did not reject a warning by former Federal Drug Administration Commissioner
Dr. Scott Gottlieb that there could be 300,000 coronavirus deaths by the end of
the year, saying, "Anything is possible."
"To everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune or protected from
this virus," Birx said. Her comments came after her colleague, Dr. Anthony
Fauci, told a House committee on Friday it was "unclear" how long the crisis
will last. But the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Americans
to brace for an average of 1,000 deaths a day for the next 30 days.
And while there are some signs that infections have plateaued in sunbelt states
in the last week, albeit at high levels, Birx's words suggest new epicenters are
looming, a situation hardly consistent with Trump's description of "embers" of
infection. The President speaks optimistically about a coming vaccination --
though experts say it could still be months away -- and boasts about advances in
therapeutics and of building thousands of ventilators. But the horrible
statistics of the pandemic are relentless with 1,000 Americans dying almost
every day. And the administration response appears -- as it has from the start
-- short of the scale needed to beat back the worst public health crisis in 100
But surprisingly, Birx said the administration had already re-examined its
"I think the federal government reset about five to six weeks ago when we saw
this starting to happen across the South," she told Bash.
At the start of a rough six-week period that saw the virus surge unimpeded
through Florida, Texas, Arizona and other states that Trump pressured to open
before the pathogen was under control, Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the
coronavirus task force, declared in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the US is
"winning the fight" and there "isn't a 'second wave.'"
Birx has faced criticism for becoming too compliant with the administration's
political line rather than following the science where it leads.
Birx defended herself on "State of the Union" after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
said she didn't have confidence in the veteran public health official because
she was an appointee of a President who is spreading disinformation.
"I have never been called Pollyannish or non-scientific or non-data-driven,"
Birx said on "State of the Union."
Birx contradicted the President's call for schools to open everywhere, saying
that where there is a high caseload and active community spread, where people
shouldn't go to bars or have house parties, they should "distance-learn at this
moment so we can get this epidemic under control."
Another senior administration official involved in the fight against the
pandemic, testing czar Adm. Brett Giroir, contradicted the President's fresh
touting of hydroxychloroquine last week as a potential treatment for Covid-19.
"At this point in time, there's been five randomized controlled, placebo
controlled trials, that do not show any benefit to hydroxychloroquine," Giroir
said on NBC News' "Meet the Press."
"I think most physicians and prescribers are evidence-based and they're not
influenced by whatever is on Twitter or anything else," he said. "And the
evidence just doesn't show that hydroxychloroquine is effective right now."
Trump's disconnect on the crisis
Far from showing that he understand the depths of the calamity and has a plan to
address it, Trump spent the weekend spreading lies and disinformation in between
two trips to his golf course in Virginia, again underscoring how he has declined
to adopt the leadership role that would have been expected from a traditional
president during a grave national crisis.
He again falsely claimed that the only reason there are more cases of the virus
is because the US is doing new testing. He gloated about "Big China Virus
breakouts" in nations where reopenings have caused viral spikes and where
leaders did a better job in quelling the virus than he did in the United States.
Trump also claimed falsely that the media was not reporting on such hotspots
around the world.
The President also launched a new attack on Fauci, who said last week that the
reason Europe did better containing the initial pandemic was because it shut
down far more of its economy that the President allowed in the US.
Trump's tweets followed a report by Vanity Fair last week that Trump's
son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner worked on a secret national testing
plan last spring before the approach was rejected, reportedly for political
reasons, in favor of putting the responsibility for fighting the virus on
individual governors. Since then, tens of thousands of Americans have died and
experts say there still is not sufficient testing capacity to flatten the
infection curve of the virus. Many test results are coming back far too slowly
to be of any use controlling the spread of the disease. The White House says the
premise of the article is wrong and misstates the facts.
'Assume you are infected'
With a vaccine still lacking, Birx also warned that too many Americans were not
taking the virus sufficiently seriously, in another jarring disconnect from the
"Across America right now, people are on the move ... as I traveled around the
country, I saw all of America moving. I think it's our job, as public health
officials, to be able to get a message to each American that says, if you have
chosen to go on vacation into a hot spot, you really need to come back and
protect those with comorbidities and assume you're infected."
Despite the worsening crisis, there is no sign of a new administration approach,
or evidence of an effort to set up the massive testing and tracing nationwide
program that experts say is needed to finally get a handle on the crisis.