Still, task force members spoke out against the idea of nationwide school lockdowns or closures and hoped a vaccine would be available soon to help protect Americans.
She showed a series of charts showing that the current increase in cases is sharper and steeper than at any other time in the pandemic.
Record after record
Birx displayed a map flooded with red, showing the number of daily hospitalizations, which now regularly exceeds 70,000.
The United States hit a new record for daily diagnoses reported Thursday, with 182,601 new cases reported as of 9 p.m., according to Johns Hopkins University.
“We know what to do and we ask every American to do these things today,” she added. It starts with wearing masks, but also staying away and limiting gatherings, she said.
The virus is spread even when people are not showing symptoms, Birx noted. “It is because of this asymptomatic spread that we are asking people to wear a mask indoors,” she said. Birx also said “reducing gatherings of friends and families where people gather and unknowingly spread the virus” will help slow the spread.
Earlier on Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked Americans not to travel on Thanksgiving.
But other members of the task force said they would not support a national lockdown.
“President Trump wanted me to be clear that our task force, this administration and our president, are not supporting another national lockdown. And we don’t support closing schools, ”Vice President Mike Pence said at the meeting.
CDC director Dr Robert Redfield agreed and said, without citing the research, that studies have shown the virus does not spread in schools.
“Today we have gathered a lot of data over the past two to three months to confirm that K-12 schools can and can safely operate with face-to-face learning. Redfield said.
Several CDC spokespersons said they couldn’t immediately identify what data Redfield was talking about.
“The infections that we identified in schools, when assessed, were not acquired in schools. They were actually acquired in the community and in the household, ”said Redfield.
Informal meetings and the silent transmission of the virus by people who don’t even know they are infected are a big part of the problem, Redfield said.
Families become too comfortable
“These are small family gatherings, where people feel more comfortable, they take off their face masks and they get together. It’s a silent epidemic, ”he said.
“One of the safest places for children to be is to stay in school. It’s really important to keep track of the data, to make sure that we don’t make emotional decisions about what to close and what not to close, and I’m here to make it clear, the data strongly supports that kindergarten to grade 12 schools and higher education institutes are really not where we have our challenges, ”Redfield added.
The great hope, members of the task force agreed, is a vaccine.
The coronavirus vaccines under development by Moderna and Pfizer have shown 95% effectiveness in preventing symptomatic infections and Pfizer is expected to file an emergency use clearance application with the Food and Drug Administration on Friday.
“This is extraordinary,” said National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr Anthony Fauci during the briefing. “It’s almost on par with what we see with measles (vaccine), which is 98% effective. ”
If approved, task force members said the vaccines would be rolled out quickly.
‘Help is on the way’
“We tell you that help is on the way,” Fauci said.
But he said that means people must now increase their use of masks, avoid gatherings and stay away from others.
“If you are leading a battle and the cavalry is on the way, you don’t stop firing until the cavalry gets here,” Fauci said.
“This means that we actually need to double up on public health measures as we wait for this help to come, which will be soon,” Fauci said. “If we do that, we can delay things until the vaccine arrives.