The leader of the White House coronavirus task force on Monday said that protests that flared after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody could stymie the effort to curb the virus.
During a call with the nation’s governors. Dr. Deborah Birx said about 70 coronavirus testing sites in urban areas were destroyed amid riots, arson and looting that struck major metro areas in the past two weeks, according to both CBS News and The Daily Beast, both of which said they obtained a recording of the call from a participant.
“All of the governors are going to have to scramble now to make sure there’s testing available in those urban areas where they lost a CVS or they lost a walk-up or drive-up situation,” she said.
During the call, Birx and Vice President Mike Pence, who oversees the task force, expressed concerns that the protests themselves were breeding grounds for the spread of the virus.
“It’s an issue our team is following and there is concern,” Pence said. “We respect the right of every American to exercise their First Amendment rights, but we want to encourage them to do so safely.”
Birx said health experts are concerned because many protesters did not wear masks and many who covered their faces might not have protected themselves from the virus despite doing so.
“We are very concerned about some of the age groups that were out, particularly as the protests got more and more peaceful,” she said. “I saw more and more higher-risk groups on the streets.”
The Daily Beast said that in a June 3 call, Birx expressed concerns that cases in metro areas could spike because of the protests.
“This could result in a fight over the next two weeks,” she said.
Birx said Monday that California, Arizona and North Carolina saw positive cases increase amid a general rise among all states in the numbers of people tested.
“That makes us quite concerned,” she said.
She also said data indicates community spread is taking place in “metro Hispanic neighborhoods.”
In an address to biotech executives, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the virus is not going away.
“In a period of four months, it has devastated the whole world. And it isn’t over yet,” he said, according to The New York Times.
In an interview with ABC News, he said the recent protests have increased the risk for those involved.
“Masks can help, but it’s masks plus physical separation,” Fauci said.
“When you get congregations like we saw with the demonstrations, that’s taking a risk,” he said.
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