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Task Force Has 1st Briefing in 4 Months and Cites Unprecedented COVID-19 Spread

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Task Force Has 1st Briefing in 4 Months and Cites Unprecedented COVID-19 Spread

2020-11-20 20:55:31

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Deborah Birx (Image source: Screenshot)

With the United States hitting new coronavirus milestones nearly every day, and at 182,601 new cases on Thursday, the White House Coronavirus Task Force met for a news briefing for the first time in months.

The task force announced that they are seeing the fastest spread yet of COVID-19. However, they also shared their thoughts on being against lockdowns and school closures. They are hoping that a vaccine will soon be available, and indeed both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine candidates are very close.

Dr. Deborah Birx said she has been traveling around the country, encouraging governors and other state and local leaders to initiate guidelines to stop the spread of COVID-19. She believes she's had, at best, mixed results.

A series of graphs were shown of the current spike in cases. It showed a sharper and steeper climb than at any time since the coronavirus was first introduced to the country.

"This is more cases, more rapidly than what we had seen before," said Birx. "You can see the increase in test positivity to around 10 percent."

She also showed a map that was mostly red, indicating the number of daily hospitalizations. This number is typically upwards of 70,0000.

"We do know what to do, and we are asking every American to do those things today," said Birx, who added it starts with wearing masks and continues with people keeping their distance from each other and limiting gatherings.

She reminded that the virus spread even through people not showing any symptoms. "It is because of this asymptomatic spread that we are asking people to wear a mask indoors," she explained. Also being requested is "decreasing those friend and family gatherings where people come together and unknowingly spread the virus."

Members of the task force are not supportive of a nationwide lockdown. Vice President Mike Pence is among those voices. "President Trump wanted me to make it clear that our task force, this administration, and our president, does not support another national lockdown. And we do not support closing schools," he said.

In agreement was CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield. He shared that studies have shown the virus does not spread in schools. "Today there's extensive data we have gathered over the last two to three months to confirm that K-through-12 schools can operate with face-to-face learning, and they can do it safely," he said.

Redfield continued, explaining that, "The infections that we've identified in schools, when they've been evaluated, were not acquired in schools. They were actually acquired in the community and in the household."

He blamed casual get-togethers and silent transmission of the virus by people who are unaware they have COVID-19.

"It's small family gatherings, where people become more comfortable, they remove their face masks, and they get together. It's a silent epidemic," Redfield said.

"For kids, one of the safest places they can be is to remain in school," he insisted. "It's really important that, following the data, making sure we don't make emotional decisions about what to close and what not to close, and I'm here to say clearly the data strongly supports that K-through-12 schools and institutes of higher learning really are not where we are having our challenges."

All agreed that their hope is for a vaccine. Both Pfizer and Moderna have vaccine candidates very close to release. Pfizer has asked the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization, and Moderna is thought to be about a week behind.

"That is extraordinary," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease director, of the 95 percent efficacy rate both vaccines have. "That is almost to the level of what we see with measles (vaccine), which is 98 percent effective."

"We are telling you that help is on the way," added Fauci. Yet, he also noted that means people need to wear masks more, avoid gatherings and keep their distance from others. "If you are fighting a battle, and the cavalry is on the way, you don't stop shooting until the cavalry gets here," he said. 

"It means that we need to actually double down on the public health measures as we are waiting for that help to come, which will be soon," he said. "If we do that, we'll be able to hold things off until the vaccine comes."

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