White House Coronavirus Task Force doctor visits with Nebraska leaders

Published: Aug. 14, 2020 at 12:36 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - A doctor on the front lines of the coronavirus response at the White House is in Lincoln.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the Whtie House Coronavirus Task Force, had a roundtable discussion with community and state leaders Wednesday morning.

Dr. Birx spoke about how the response to the virus can be different for people in rural areas compared to a metro area like Lincoln and Omaha.

“I will say both in Iowa and Nebraska, you have very very tough people who are used to taking care of themselves and are very personally resilient. And so they may not be testing at the same rate in the rural areas as maybe in the metro areas, because you don’t go to the doctor unless you’re very ill.”

Dr. Birx acknowledged test positivity rate can look skewed in rural areas because of the low population.

“When you only have 30 people tested and three of them are positive, that puts you at 10 percent. But it may not really indicate large community spread. So what this trip has taught us is we need to really create rural indicators, particularly for rural areas with very low populations, to figure out what that early alert is for that asymptomatic community spread before it gets to the hospitals.”

Dr. Birx talked about how unusual the coronavirus is and how it impacts people so differently. She said the spectrum of symptoms leads to a big difference in how seriously people are taking the virus.

“There will be people who have friends that they know were asymptomatic, and there will be other people over here who had a grandmother die from it.”

A primary concern for Dr. Birx is preventing community spread.

“When you have large community spread and you have a large number of cases, and you’re having a community issue with that spread, it’s very difficult, and almost impossible, to protect those who have co-morbidities in multi-generational households. And that should be the message to everybody. We do have vulnerable Americans. Those vulnerable Americans both vote Democratic and Republican. And they are in Republican households and Democratic households. And our job today is to ensure that we get community transmission down, and we protect those vulnerable individuals who are in those multi-generational households, or having large family gatherings. Both of those are extraordinarily high risk for vulnerable individuals when you have community spread.”

Dr. Birx believes in the effectiveness of masks and said there is physics and examples of real life situations to prove it.

“If you remember Arizona, Arizona had a very significant community spread in Phoenix. They did a mask mandate on the 19th of June, implemented the 20th of June. Their cases were in full logarithmic spread. Two weeks later, with a mask mandate and additional closing of bars and gyms, they are now not only in the yellow zone, they’re heading to the green zone when they had test positivites over 20 percent.” 

She also spoke about whether a mask mandate is necessary in Nebraska.

“Well you have a mandate here in Lincoln. Where you have cases, it’s critical, absolutely critical to have a mask mandate. What I heard from some of your rural medical officers and public health officers, is that in many of the rural areas people are already significantly socially distant. So really those mask mandates may not be as critical there.”

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