White House health advisor says Americans need to prepare for more deaths as outbreak moves past peak

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Response coordinator for White House Coronavirus Task Force Deborah Birx speaks as President Donald Trump listens during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC on April 21, 2020.

Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

Americans should prepare to see more deaths from the coronavirus pandemic, particularly in cities, as the outbreak in the United States moves past its peak and infection rates decline, White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Deborah Birx warned Tuesday.

Deaths generally lag behind other aspects of the outbreak, she said at a White House press conference. “We really need to continue to unite and really, really support our health-care providers who are still on the frontline.”

The coronavirus, which emerged in Wuhan, China almost 4 months ago, has sickened more than  820,000 people in the U.S. and killed at least 44,228 as of Tuesday night, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. U.S. officials and infectious disease experts have previously said that deaths fall behind new cases and hospitalizations.

The virus can take anywhere from two weeks to eight weeks from the first onset of symptoms before a patient is sick enough to die, according to the World Health Organization, citing early data from China. The median time from the first sign of symptoms to recovery for mild cases is approximately two weeks and between three to six weeks for patients with severe or critical disease, according to the WHO.

Birx said Tuesday that U.S. health officials are seeing improvements in several parts of the country, including in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago, Boston and Atlanta. “That was a great concern for us over the past several weeks. They appear to be flattening,” she said. 

However, U.S. officials aren’t seeing a decline in the Washington, D.C. metro area yet, Birx said, encouraging all residents there to continue to practice social distancing measures.

Coronavirus outbreaks are also still erupting in long-term care facilities and in other confined spaces, she said. 

“Individual Americans need to continue all of their hygiene” as businesses prepare to reopen, Birx said, including washing hands, not touching their faces and not bringing the virus to vulnerable populations. 

Birx declined to comment on Georgia reopening its businesses, only saying that federal health officials were “very clear” with states on guidelines to protect Americans from the virus. 

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, announced Monday that the state will reopen businesses on Friday, starting with retail locations such as gyms, barber shops, fitness centers and bowling alleys. 

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