US caseload will reflect social distancing impact only 10 days later: White House

Nikhila Natarajan-

The US coronavirus caseload over the next 10 days will not reflect the impact of mitigation strategies and social distancing guidelines in place since the last two weeks, the White House warned as the country surged past the 100,000 marks for confirmed cases and deaths topped 1,500.

“We understand that this week and next week will not reflect that mitigation, whether it’s New Orleans or whether it’s New York and the New York metro area,” Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus co-ordinator, said at a task force briefing on Friday as anxious Americans hunkered down and US cities resembled ghost towns.

New York remains the worst-hit city in the US with 55 percent of all cases while worrisome infection data were now surfacing from New Orleans, Chicago and Detroit as well.

Birx said the hospitalizations this week and the next will be from infections that hit before the mitigation measures were put in place across America.

President Donald Trump plans to reassess on Monday the “15 days to slow the spread” social distancing guidelines currently in place in the US and reassured Americans that he wants to “do it safely”.

“I certainly want to open the country up fast but I want to do it safely. If we don’t do that, what did we do?,” Trump queried.

Speaking to pervasive comparisons with the China and South Korea experience, Birx explained that the US guidelines were adapted to fit into America’s culture and domestic reality.

“You can’t ever just take an off-the-shelf approach and then put it into action in our community. We have to understand your communities,” Birx said.

Citing examples from China and South Korea, Birx said that people who were positive in those countries were “removed” from their household and “segregated” away from their families.

“We did not think that our Americans would adopt and adapt to that situation. And so that’s why in our guidelines we asked people to try to self isolate in the household.”

Responding to a question, Birx said the US continues to prioritize testing as a diagnostic tool very “intentionally” in the current situation, rather than as a surveillance mechanism.

“The important thing about testing it only tells you if you’re positive or negative that day. You could become positive the next day. And so, testing should be used intentionally as a surveillance tool or a diagnostic tool,” she said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious diseases doctor on the White House task force described the COVID-19 pandemic as a time that “no one has ever experienced in our generation”.

“We’re really being challenged to not only learn in real-time but to be able to respond in a way that is helpful and effective. But we’re also in unchartered waters�it isn’t as if we have an example of how to do it,” he said, reflecting on the time since the first US death was reported in early March from the West Coast.

Yet, Fauci has struck a cautiously upbeat tone saying he feels “confident” with all the knowledge now available on the virus.

“We will have some sort of therapy, that gives at least a partial if not very good protection in preventing progression of the disease,” he said this week.

Randomized control trials are how the US is planning to get the best drug as quickly and safely as possible to the people.

Until then, the US government is hoping the $2.2 trillion stimulus package signed on Friday will soothe a bruised economy, millions of newly jobless and an overwhelmed healthcare system. Lawmakers in both parties lined up behind the law designed to put cash directly into the hands of most Americans.

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