Dr. Deborah Birx, a leading infectious disease expert on the White House’s coronavirus task force, said Sunday that the actions of people ignoring social distancing guidelines while protesting stay-at-home orders are “devastatingly worrisome.”
During an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace asked Birx to weigh in from a public health perspective on the anti-lockdown protest at Michigan’s state capitol on Thursday. Videos showed hundreds of protesters without masks crammed inside the building.
“It’s devastatingly worrisome to me personally,” Birx said, “because if they go home and infect their grandmother or their grandfather who has a comorbid condition and they have a serious or an unfortunate outcome, they will feel guilty for the rest of our lives.”
“We need to protect each other at the same time we’re voicing our discontent,” she added.
President Donald Trump has offered mixed messages on the protests. On April 16, he announced a three-phase set of guidelines for reopening the country, which in part require state and local officials to confirm a two-week decline in new cases before moving forward.
A day later, the president encouraged people protesting statewide stay-at-home orders in Democratic-led states, even though the states had not yet met the criteria for reopening outlined in the federal guidelines.
Less than a week later, Trump blasted Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) for announcing plans to reopen parts of his state. And then last week, the president advised Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) to “give a little” and “make a deal” with the “very good people” protesting in the state’s capitol.
Asked Sunday if there should be a “firm” national policy on when states can reopen, Birx said that’s what the current plan is.
“I think federal guidelines are a pretty firm policy of what we think is important from a public health standpoint,” Birx said. “As states reopen, we really want want them to follow the gating criteria.”
“We also made it very clear to the American people this is what you need to continue to do to protect yourself: You need to continue to social distance, you need to continue to practice scrupulous hand-washing,” she continued. “Most importantly, if you have any preexisting condition, through phase one and phrase two of reopening, we have asked you to continue to shelter in place.”
Some states, such as Arkansas and Colorado, have allowed hair salons and barbershops to reopen as they begin to ease coronavirus restrictions. But Birx warned that it’s too early to do so given the close proximity between stylists and customers ― even if both parties are wearing masks.
“We’ve made it clear that that is not a good phase one activity,” she said.
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