Birx warns of coming coronavirus hot spots across the U.S.

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WASHINGTON – Louisiana is poised to become the next epicenter of the coronavirus crisis, White House officials said Thursday, citing new data that shows that 26 percent of the tests for COVID-19 in that state in recent days have come back positive. That is the second-highest rate of infection in the United States, behind New York and New Jersey, where 35 percent of coronavirus tests have been positive.

The New York area remains a “very clear and important hot zone,” Dr. Deborah Birx said at Thursday’s briefing of the White House coronavirus task force as she revealed testing statistics on specific states.

“What we’re seeing finally is testing improving,” said Birx, a renowned veteran of the HIV/AIDS fight who is now serving as the response coordinator for the coronavirus task force. She added that the increased testing capacity has allowed states with a low number of confirmed cases to conduct “surveillance and containment” of sickened individuals.

But Birx also sounded a warning about states where more than 10 percent of those tested for COVID-19 are still being diagnosed with the disease.

“Michigan, Connecticut, Indiana, Georgia, Illinois, so that should tell you where the next hot spots are coming, are at 15 percent of their tests positive, and then Colorado, D.C., Rhode Island and Massachusetts are at 13 percent,” she said.

According to the COVID Tracking Project, which aggregates publicly available data from all 50 states, 1,267,658 COVID-19 tests had been conducted in the United States as of Thursday afternoon (that does not mean that 1,267,658 have been tested, as most sickened people need to be tested several times).

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Thursday, April 2, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, at the White House on Thursday. (Alex Brandon/AP)

That statistic represents a drastic escalation of testing across the nation in the last several days, giving epidemiologists the clarity they have desperately needed in the fight against the coronavirus, which has killed nearly 6,000 Americans.

Still, Birx conceded Thursday that her findings about the overall number of cases of COVID-19 remain incomplete.

“I’m still missing 50 percent of the data,” she said.

The Democratic governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, feuded with President Trump last week, accusing him of not doing enough to help her state, where a coronavirus cluster has erupted in Detroit.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, meanwhile, admitted on Wednesday that he had only recently learned that people who weren’t showing symptoms could transmit the coronavirus. That led to questions about what had guided him in his decision making up to that point.

Encouragingly, Birx said that California and Washington state, which saw the first outbreaks of the coronavirus in the U.S., “remain steady at an 8 percent rate” of new positive test results. That suggests that lockdown measures instituted by Govs. Gavin Newsom and Jay Inslee, respectively, had their intended effect.

But Birx cautioned that the country was still in danger and that the new potential hot spots showed that social distancing guidelines remained the best defense against the virus.

“We have to change the logarithmic curve that we’re on. We see country after country having done that,” Birx said. “What it means in the United States is that not everyone is doing [social distancing],” she said, adding, “I can tell by the curve and as it is today that not every American is following it.”


Click here for the latest coronavirus news and updates. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC and WHO’s resource guides.

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