Deborah Birx, the physician overseeing the White House coronavirus response, warned Sunday that the United States had entered a “new phase” of the pandemic and urged people to take extreme health precautions as infections and deaths rise sharply throughout the country.
“I want to be very clear: What we’re seeing today is different from March and April,” Birx told CNN’s “State of the Union,” noting that cases were increasing in rural and urban areas. “It is extraordinarily widespread.”
Birx did not rule out an estimate from former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb that virus deaths could top 300,000 by the end of the year, saying “anything is possible.” Such an outcome would be far less likely, Birx said, if people practiced social distancing and avoided large gatherings.
Birx has faced mounting criticism over her handling of the coronavirus response after the New York Times reported last month that her optimistic outlook on the pandemic’s trajectory helped justify reopening decisions that preceded new outbreaks.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Sunday she did not have confidence in Birx. “I think the president is spreading disinformation about the virus, and she is his appointee,” Pelosi said in response to a question from ABC News’s Martha Raddatz. “So I don’t have confidence there, no.”
Birx defended her decisions in responding to the crisis. “I have tremendous respect for the speaker. I have tremendous respect for her long dedication to the American people,” she told CNN, before adding that she has “never been called Pollyannaish or nonscientific or non-data driven.”