Dr. Deborah Birx pushed back on the idea that the coronavirus isn’t as deadly as expected, in a new interview with Judge Jeanine Pirro on Saturday.
The White House expert said that it’s “very critical” to protect vulnerable Americans by adhering to social distancing guidance, Fox News reported — even as she conceded that the number of asymptomatic people infected will the virus may be higher than previously thought.
Birx: Protecting vulnerable is “critical”
As America debates when to return to normal life, some have questioned whether the virus’ true lethality was somehow overestimated — and Pirro pressed Birx on the matter. The doctor admitted that the number of those infected with minimal symptoms was “underestimated,” pointing to antibody studies from New York, which have found that millions of New Yorkers could already have had the virus, as Axios reported.
“I think we underestimated, very early on, the number of asymptomatic cases. And I think we’re really beginning to understand there are people that get infected — that those symptoms are so low-grade that they don’t even know that they’re infected,” Birx said.
However, Birx maintained that the virus is “highly transmissible” and potentially very deadly for those with pre-existing conditions, like heart disease and asthma, after Pirro questioned whether it was “unfair” to count anyone who dies while showing coronavirus symptoms, even if the coronavirus is not the direct cause of death.
When Pirro asked if it makes sense to keep individuals at a lower risk locked down, since forcing them into isolation might prevent ‘herd immunity’ from developing, Birx said that the mortality rate for those with pre-existing conditions is too high — and the number of individuals with those conditions also too high — to let the virus simply run its course.
“We have to remember that in America, we have a lot of people — even young people — with diabetes and asthma and hypertension,” Birx said. “And so protecting them really becomes very critical because they can have a very difficult course.”
“Devastatingly worrisome” protests
As America looks to open back up, it’s important for states to move cautiously, in phases, according to the White House’s guidelines, Birx said — and every citizen has a responsibility to protect their fellow Americans by wearing masks. So far, the virus has killed almost 70,000 Americans and infected at least a million, according to Reuters.
“We still have to remember that there’s 66, 67,000 people that have succumbed to this virus in just six to seven weeks. So when people compare it to flu, flu may have some level of mortality but it’s over weeks and months, not over six or seven weeks,” Birx said, drawing a pointed contrast between the coronavirus and the flu.
On Sunday, President Donald Trump said that the virus could ultimately kill 100,000 people in this country, according to NBC News. At the same time, the president looked ahead to re-opening the economy, as controversy continues to rage over draconian lockdowns and their overall effects. Birx said this weekend that protests against lockdowns are “devastatingly worrisome,” but Trump has expressed sympathy for demonstrators’ concerns.
At the same time, Dr. Birx herself has come under fire from the left for defending Trump’s coronavirus response, with some suggesting cynically that her own credibility is on the line.
The bottom line, Birx said, is that a vaccine is the only way to really defeat the virus — and in the meantime, Americans need to remain highly conscientious of the need to protect at-risk individuals.