'If you can't social distance and you're outside, you must wear a mask': Birx

Martha Raddatz interviews Dr. Deborah Birx on "This Week."
9:06 | 05/24/20

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Transcript for 'If you can't social distance and you're outside, you must wear a mask': Birx
For more on this, white house coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah birx joins us now. Good morning, Dr. Birx. We have all 50 states gradually opening up, but Saturday, north Carolina reported the highest one-day number of covid cases with 1,107. They call it a notable and concerning increase. Arkansas also reporting a second wave and Minnesota is reaching capacity in its icu, should these states now scale back on relaxing the rules given these statistics? I think it's really important, and thank you for the question, to really understand what's driving those outbreaks and we've been working with every county, state and local officials, through the CDC, to the governors' call, to really encouraging proactive testing. Some of this is increased testing in areas we know are at the highest risks, whether it's nursing homes, areas where people work, sleep and stay together and really getting proactive testing out there to find cases before there's community spread. From the Arkansas case, a lot of that was associated by a social gathering and that's why we made it clear during this reopening social gatherings should not be more than ten people even if they're outside because you still need to min tan that social distancing. Exactly. You said Friday that people could go out to beaches this weekend as long as they stayed distanced, but when you look at the images of these large crowds at beaches on Saturday at outdoor restaurants, waterparks, not keeping social distance, does this still make you confident that reopening beaches and parks was the right call? I think it's our job as public health officials every day to be informing the public of what puts them at risk. We've made it clear there's asymptomatic spread, that means people are spreading the virus unknowingly. So, you don't know who's infected and so we really want to be clear all the time that social distancing is absolutely critical, and if you can't social distance and you're outside, you must wear a mask, these are items that are really critical to protect individuals. We've learned a lot about this virus, but we now need to translate that learning into real transformed behavior. So we can continue to drive down the number of cases. But I guess that's my point, you're not seeing it across the country. You're not seeing it at those beaches. And I think that's our job to continue to communicate and I think we have to communicate through different venues, making sure that our generation Zs and our millennials can get that message out there, how to be together socially yet distance. I think there's a way to do that. Americans are amazingly innovative and I think we really just need to have better, continuous communication on how important that is and then highlighting these issues that come up like in Arkansas with this pool party, that's why it's really important that you maintain those distances and again to speak to those who have those vulnerabilities and comorbidities. Both in phase one and phase two of reopenings we asked you to continue to shelter in place. So, those two pieces need to continue to happen where people who have comorbidities are continuing to shelter, while those who don't are going out but maintaining social distances so they're not spreading to others. Dr. Birx, the president on Friday called on governors to open houses of worship right now, and yet, churches have been found to be one of the biggest superspreaders, one asymptomatic person in Washington state infected as many as 15 people in choir practice. You said on Friday that maybe some places should wait. What are your concerns there? I think there's two pieces that are important. Before the president made that announcement, he asked the CDC to get their guidance to churches up, so that churches could reopen safely, so that guidance is up there and available to all churches and congregants to understand how to worship together safely. Certainly worshiping outside, maintaining social distancing, and you know, not having physical contact with each other and that's -- I know that's difficult. We all have made difficult behavioral changes, and that needs to continue to happen. But the guidance was up before the churches were asked to reopen and I think that's really important that both with opening up America again, those guidelines went out before we stopped the 30-day stop the spread, again after the 15, which was 45 days total, this only works if we all follow the guidelines and protect one another. And Dr. Birx, we're approaching the very sad milestone of 100,000 deaths due to covid. It's a stunning figure. Do you have any reason to think that number is inflated and do you agree with Dr. Fauci that the death count is almost certainly higher? I've said from the beginning, that we'll follow the data and we provide the data that's integrated between multiple reporting sites and we have never altered the death numbers. In this country, we've been very inclusive. I'll tell you always, with any pandemic, and any time people are fighting to save other people's lives it's difficult to count at the early part of the epidemic and we'll have time to look back and really ensure that we found all of those cases. Each of those cases and each of those deaths is very important to understand. Because we're a different country than the other countries that have been infected. We want to really understand what's the risk to 30-year-olds, 45-year-olds. The risks to children? How do we prevent serious disease? That's why all this information together is really important to continue to get and continue to validate. Dr. Birx, Dr. Fauci said it's inevitable that there will be a second wave of covid-19, but president trump says, we are not going to close the country if there's a second wave, is that the right approach? I think we're trying to learn right now very carefully about how you reopen safely, you know we act like we've actually done this before, and besides 1918-1919 we never closed parts of America and even then the whole country wasn't closed, 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, and also, I want to be very clear to the American people -- we're preparing for that potential fall issue, both in ppe, which is protective devices both in ventilators, stockpiles and ensuring that we're really pushing on therapeutics and vaccine development so we can be ready if the virus does come back in a significant way. But you don't see the country closing down again? It's difficult to tell and I really am data-driven, I'm collecting data right now about whether governors and whether states and whether communities are able to open safely and what do I mean by that? We have to do much better with proactive testing. Not just count the number of tests we've done. That's great. But really ensure those tests are being applied in a way that we find the asymptomatic cases. It's much easier to find symptomatic cases, because people are sick. And when people are sick, they're often not out and about, particularly if a severe case of covid with a fever. What I'm worried about is, what are we putting in place to find asymptomatic cases? That's why we've asked for proactive, 100% testing of all residents and workers and then proactive ongoing testing of workers in nursing homes. Proactive testing where people are living together in large groups, whether they're living together to serve a meatpacking plant or agricultural workers. I really want to call them events rather targeting individuals because individuals are unknowingly spreading the virus. Let's talk about events. 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. Okay, thanks so much for joining us this morning, Dr. Birx. Thank you.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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