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The US is entering the “most deadly phase” of the coronavirus pandemic, top Trump adviser warns

Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, issued a blunt memo to officials about America’s Covid-19 crisis.

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus task force coordinator.
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Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

President Donald Trump is publicly declaring that the United States is “turning the corner” on the Covid-19 pandemic.

Privately, a top official involved in the president’s coronavirus response is warning the opposite.

Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, warned in an alarming internal memo that the United States is “entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic.”

The Washington Post first reported the existence of the memo, which was shared with top White House officials Monday. “Cases are rapidly rising in nearly 30 percent of all USA counties, the highest number of county hotspots we have seen with this pandemic,” Birx’s report read, according to the Washington Post. “Half of the United States is in the red or orange zone for cases despite flat or declining testing.” The memo also warned that the US could see days where the number of new Covid-19 cases exceeds 100,000.

Birx’s warning comes as some states are seeing record-level infections and hospitals are on the verge of being overwhelmed — a reprise of what some parts of the country saw in the earliest days of the pandemic. On, Friday, the US hit more than 99,000 new cases in a single day, breaking the previous record. More than 48,000 Americans are currently hospitalized with Covid-19. Deaths usually lag behind new cases and hospitalizations, but those are up, too; on average, roughly 800 deaths are being reported each day, according to the Covid-19 Tracking Project. Experts have said they believe it will get worse as winter approaches, as more people gather indoors.

Birx, an esteemed AIDS expert named to the White House coronavirus task force role in February, has been reluctant to criticize Trump or publicly push back on some of his false statements. But the warnings in the memo are some of her bluntest yet. In the report, she says that the White House is putting too much emphasis on lockdowns, which are not really an issue anymore. Instead, she argued, the US needs “more aggressive action” on everything from testing to messaging. Consistent messaging, she wrote, was essential.

With the memo, Birx joins the chorus of scientists and experts who are warning of a possible “dark winter.” Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said in an interview Friday that the United States is in for “a whole lot of hurt.” Only an “abrupt change” in public practices and behaviors would change that, he said.

The memo argued that the White House could play a role in urging that change. “There is an absolute necessity of the Administration to use this moment to ask the American people to wear masks, physical distance and avoid gatherings in both public and private spaces,” the report warns.

Those alarms apparently have not reached Trump, who has repeatedly downplayed the virus in the closing days of his campaign, often at large (if outdoors) rallies, where mask-wearing is spotty among attendees. The president has falsely accused doctors of profiteering off Covid-19 deaths and falsely claimed the United States has more cases because it’s doing more tests, and implied that he might fire Fauci after the election.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 continues to spread quickly in the United States, with more than 230,000 dead and with many of the most common-sense public safety measures, including mask-wearing, now politicized. Though other places around the world — specifically, European countries — are seeing a resurgence of Covid-19, unlike those governments, Trump has avoided any sort of national interventions or mandates.

While states have always played a role in managing the public health crisis, their measures have become harder to implement amid the president’s claims that Covid-19 is basically over. Trump has said “you won’t hear about” Covid-19 after November 4. Instead, this latest surge of Covid-19 might be the most devastating yet.

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