Birx Says U.S. Coronavirus Epidemic Is in a New Phase


Asked if he was recommending a national mask mandate, Admiral Giroir said, “The public health message is we’ve got to have mask-wearing.” He added: “If we don’t do that, and if we don’t limit the indoor crowded spaces, the virus will continue to run.”

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Frequently Asked Questions

Updated July 27, 2020

Should I refinance my mortgage?It could be a good idea, because mortgage rates have never been lower. Refinancing requests have pushed mortgage applications to some of the highest levels since 2008, so be prepared to get in line. But defaults are also up, so if you’re thinking about buying a home, be aware that some lenders have tightened their standards.What is school going to look like in September?It is unlikely that many schools will return to a normal schedule this fall, requiring the grind of online learning, makeshift child care and stunted workdays to continue. California’s two largest public school districts — Los Angeles and San Diego — said on July 13, that instruction will be remote-only in the fall, citing concerns that surging coronavirus infections in their areas pose too dire a risk for students and teachers. Together, the two districts enroll some 825,000 students. They are the largest in the country so far to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August. For other districts, the solution won’t be an all-or-nothing approach. Many systems, including the nation’s largest, New York City, are devising hybrid plans that involve spending some days in classrooms and other days online. There’s no national policy on this yet, so check with your municipal school system regularly to see what is happening in your community.Is the coronavirus airborne?The coronavirus can stay aloft for hours in tiny droplets in stagnant air, infecting people as they inhale, mounting scientific evidence suggests. This risk is highest in crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation, and may help explain super-spreading events reported in meatpacking plants, churches and restaurants. It’s unclear how often the virus is spread via these tiny droplets, or aerosols, compared with larger droplets that are expelled when a sick person coughs or sneezes, or transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces, said Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech. Aerosols are released even when a person without symptoms exhales, talks or sings, according to Dr. Marr and more than 200 other experts, who have outlined the evidence in an open letter to the World Health Organization.What are the symptoms of coronavirus?Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

Another guest on CNN on Sunday, Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said that, in many areas where cases are surging, the availability of tests was badly lagging. “In 18, 20 states, the number of tests being done is actually falling and falling because our testing system is under such strain that we just can’t even deliver the test today that we were doing two weeks ago,” he said. “That’s very concerning because when cases are rising, and your number of tests are falling, that’s a recipe for disaster.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Admiral Giroir defended the nation’s testing program, noting it has exponentially been increased in recent months although there are still delays in getting results. He said that both testing and contact tracing efforts were crucial responses, but not particularly helpful in large, communitywide outbreaks.

“When you have a widespread, multifocal outbreak where many people are asymptomatic, testing and tracing are of limited utility versus public health policy measures like mask-wearing, like closing indoor crowded spaces,” Admiral Giroir said. “So, yes, contact tracing is important, but it’s much less important right now than the public policy mitigation measures.”

Despite encouraging signs in some states fighting to contain the summer outbreaks, Admiral Giroir said, the true cost of those infections will only be clear in the weeks to come: “We are very concerned and this is a very serious point, and deaths will continue to increase for the next few weeks” because deaths tend to lag behind case counts.