Breaking with Trump, Birx won’t commit to keeping the country open if COVID-19 returns in the fall

President Donald Trump made it clear last week that if a “second wave” of the coronavirus hits, he has no intention of allowing the nation to be locked down once again. Dr. Deborah Birx, on the other hand, has not been as willing to commit to a permanent reopening.

The coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force suggested in an interview Sunday that the decision to open businesses in the wake of the pandemic or close up shop once again will be left to the states, and that data is still being collected to determine when and if that will be necessary, the Washington Examiner reported.

“We’re not closing our country”

It was during a guided tour on Thursday of a Ford manufacturing plant producing ventilator machines in Ypsilanti, Michigan, that President Trump expressed his desire to see the country remain open, even if the coronavirus outbreak hits another peak in the U.S. in the coming months, as CNBC reported.

Asked if he was concerned about “embers” sparking a second wave of viral infections, Trump told reporters, “People say that’s a very distinct possibility. It’s standard. And we’re going to put out the fires,” he vowed, according to a transcript provided by the White House.

“We’re not going to close the country; we’re going to put out the fires,” the president added. “There could be — whether it’s an ember or a flame, we’re going to put it out. But we’re not closing our country.”

“How do we maintain openness?”

But Dr. Birx doesn’t appear to share the president’s confidence that a potential second wave of COVID-19 infections could be handled without resuming strict lockdown measures — at least, that was the takeaway from her interview Sunday on ABC’s This Week.

Speaking with Birx, host Martha Raddatz noted the president’s opposition to closing the country down again “if there is a second wave,” and asked the doctor if that is the “right approach.” According to a tracker from Johns Hopkins University, nearly 100,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus disease this year.

“I think we’re trying to learn right now very carefully about how you reopen safely,” Birx replied, according to ABC, adding that America has never shut down to this extent in the face of a pandemic before.

“We’re trying to understand during this period of coming out of the closure, how do we maintain openness and safety? And I think that’s what we’re going to be learning through May, June, and July,” Birx added, according to ABC. She also pointed out that stockpiles of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators are being replenished in case a second outbreak does materialize in the fall.

“Proactive testing”

When pressed about whether the country would need to be closed down again, Birx told Raddatz: “It’s difficult to tell.

“I really am data-driven,” she said, according to the Washington Examiner, “so I’m collecting data right now about whether governors and whether states and whether communities are able to open safely.”

The doctor also stressed the need for dramatically increased and specifically targeted testing of both visibly sick as well as asymptomatic individuals to truly keep the coronavirus in check. “But all of this proactive testing needs to be in place and needs to continue to be in place because that will determine safely remaining open in the fall,” she said, according to the Examiner.

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