Birx cautions against inaccurate models predicting significant coronavirus spread

White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx cautioned Thursday against models that predict alarming increases in coronavirus infections and deaths in the U.S.

Birx, speaking at a White House press briefing, singled out a recent study on the United Kingdom that originally predicted 500,000 people would die from the virus and has since been revised down to predict 20,000 deaths in the U.K. She said the data the government has collected does not show that 20 percent of the U.S. population would be infected with COVID-19, cautioning against predictions that say so.

“When people start talking about 20 percent of a population getting infected, it is very scary but we don’t have data that matches that based on the experience,” Birx said.

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“There’s no … reality on the ground where we can see that 60 to 70 percent of Americans are going to get infected in the next eight to 12 weeks,” Birx later continued. 

Birx, an HIV/AIDS expert from the State Department who was brought on to coordinate the federal government’s response to the coronavirus, noted that 19 of the 50 U.S. states are showing a persistently low level of coronavirus cases despite reporting early infections. These 19 states each have fewer than 200 cases, Birx said, and are still working to actively contain the virus rather than mitigate its spread.

“That’s almost 40 percent of the country with extraordinarily low numbers and they are testing,” Birx said.

At the same time, Birx continued to raise concerns about the New York metro area, which has become the epicenter of coronavirus cases and accounts for more than 50 percent of all new cases being reported.

Birx also said that federal officials are concerned about Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago, and Wayne County, Mich., which includes Detroit, becoming hotspots because of what appears to be rapid spread of COVID-19 in those counties. 

Birx also said that federal officials were assured in a meeting with New York state officials that they have unused ICU beds and between 1,000 and 2,000 ventilators that haven’t been used. She reacted negatively to press reports about hospitals contemplating do-not-resuscitate orders, suggesting such talk would spark unnecessary fear among Americans.

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“There is no situation in the United States right now that warrants that kind of discussion,” Birx said. “We don’t have any evidence of that right now.”   

Even so, reports out of New York have depicted hospitals there being overrun with patients. The state is building an overflow hospital in the Manhattan convention to house noncoronavirus patients and two temporary hospitals are also being set up to house patients in the state.

The United States now leads the world in the number of coronavirus cases, with more than 83,000 infected Americans and more than 1,000 deaths.

The Trump administration has urged Americans across the country to practice social distancing by avoiding bars, restaurants, and nonessential travel. Officials in various states have also ordered nonessential businesses closed or implemented more aggressive stay-at-home orders as they seek to prevent the further spread of the virus.