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The White House coronavirus response coordinator on Tuesday suggested that "there's a fine line" between balancing the economic needs of Americans and the fight against the pandemic.
Dr. Deborah Birx in an interview on "TODAY" on Tuesday responded to questions about President Donald Trump's assertion at a press conference Monday that the shutdown of many businesses around the country would last weeks, not months. "America will again and soon be open for business," he said.
Birx, who spoke as the number of U.S. coronavirus cases approached 45,000, with at least 550 deaths, said officials are carefully evaluating data, including from Italy where after two weeks of a national lockdown the number of deaths has begun to decline.
The question is, Birx said, "Can we be laser-focused rather than generic across the country" in the fight against the spread of virus?
"TODAY" co-anchor Savannah Guthrie asked if it is feasible to "isolate hot spots" in the U.S.?
"We’re getting critical information from all of the front lines," Birx said, adding that officials are looking at data in a granular way including to determine who is at risk.
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"We've never really confronted this type of epidemic before," she said.
Asked about Trump's remark that "we can't let the cure be worse than the problem itself," Birx said, "There’s a fine line and a place to go that balances the needs of the American people both today and tomorrow with the reality of the epidemic."
"The president has been very focused on what all Americans need both economically and public health-wise," she said.
Birx also stressed that Americans should continue to heed guidelines on social distancing to guard against spread of the virus.
She was also asked about the rapid increase in coronavirus cases in New York, where the statewide number now tops 20,000.
"To everyone in New York, you are in a very difficult place and if any city should be adhering to the presidential guidelines … it's New York and the New York metro area right now," Birx said.
The high rate of increase in New York now reflects at least in part a backlog in test results, she said.
"Many of the positives you’re seeing in this surge are people whose tests came in three or four days ago," Birx said. Those who are now hospitalized most likely were exposed two or three weeks ago, she said.
The impact of social distancing in New York won't be apparent for another several days at least, she said.
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Her comments Tuesday came as more officials were questioning the need for the shutdown of large numbers of businesses to fight the virus.
Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick suggested on Monday that some elderly people might be willing to die to get the economy moving again.
“Those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves. But don’t sacrifice the country,” Patrick said on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
Patrick, who said he will turn 70 next week, said he feared that stay-at-home orders and economic upheaval would destroy the American way of life.