“I wish that when we went into lockdown (in March), we looked like Italy,” Dr. Deborah Birx said Monday. “When Italy locked down, I mean, people weren’t allowed out of their houses (without a pass). Americans don’t react well to that kind of prohibition.”
In Italy as the virus spread, residents were told to stay home and only leave for essential activities. Authorities would stop people and check to make sure they had documents that said where and why they were traveling.
In a roundtable discussion hosted by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Birx said she has learned what Americans are willing to do to combat the virus, and that officials must meet people where they are.
“People were interacting, people were out, but people, by just not doing those careful things, were able to drop the cases significantly, probably by more than 80%,” Birx said.
That kind of behavioral change is something every American can do, she said.
“Tens of thousands of lives can be saved if we wear masks, and we don’t have parties in our backyards … taking those masks off,” Birx said.
Jared Kushner, a White House senior adviser, disagreed, saying President Donald Trump was “very forward-leaning” when he and the task force issued 15-day guidelines in mid-March.
“This was done at the time to make sure that we had enough hospital capacity and supplies, so that we didn’t end up like Italy, where there were people dying on gurneys in waiting rooms,” Kushner told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
He complimented the President on the administration’s response to a ventilator shortage, repeating the White House line that no American who needed a ventilator didn’t get one.
“So, I think we have done much better than Italy with regards to how we handled this initially,” he said.
Kushner said the United States is in the middle phase of the pandemic and the administration is using what it has learned to protect the most vulnerable people. He said they were rushing resources to nursing homes.
Virus is No. 3 killer in the US
The virus, which didn’t even exist a year ago, is now killing more Americans than Alzheimer’s disease, accidents and diabetes.
Over the past three weeks, the US has averaged more than 1,000 Covid-19 deaths per day.
“Covid is now the No. 3 cause of death in the US — ahead of accidents, injuries, lung disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and many, many other causes,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death in the US, according to the CDC.
The rate of deaths from Covid-19 is also much greater in the US than in many other countries, Frieden said.
“Last week, Americans were eight times more likely to get killed by Covid than were Europeans,” he said.
Less testing = more infected people walking around
Just as more students head back to school, health experts are worried about a disturbing trend: decreasing testing combined with high test positivity rates.
In other words, Covid-19 is still spreading rampantly, but there’s less testing to find and isolate cases.
Fifteen states conducted fewer tests this past week compared to the previous week: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.
“The testing situation is not good in the United States. What we’re not picking up is people who are contagious,” said Dr. William Haseltine, chairman and president of Access Health International.
“We’re probably missing 8 out of 10 people who are contagious. And any decrease in testing is worrisome because we’re not already doing well. And if you don’t pick people out of a crowd who are contagious, then the epidemic spreads. … This epidemic is still spreading widely.”
Why are some states testing less?
Medical experts say there could be several reasons.
“One of the reasons that testing is decreasing is that supplies aren’t being shipped to places that can test. I think it’s part of a strategy not to count how many people are infected,” Haseltine said.
Florida governor touts success
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state has seen six consecutive weeks of decline in test positivity rates.
And the number of patients hospitalized with coronavirus has declined by nearly 40% since peaking July 22, he added. The number of ICU patients is down 30% since July 18.
DeSantis said he thinks the downward trends across the state are durable. “We’re going to continue to work hard to be able to see these good trends.”
One of the measures the state took to blunt the number of cases was closing bars in late June.
Halsey Beshears, Florida’s top business regulator, is reviewing feedback and ideas from his meetings with bar and brewery owners from across the state, but no timeline for the reopening of bars has been set, according to Karen Smith, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
“While no time frame for reopening is certain, Secretary Beshears understands the urgency advocated by business owners in these recent meetings,” Smith said.
Shortage of minority volunteers could delay vaccines
That’s not nearly enough, as trial participants are supposed to reflect the population that’s affected. Research shows more than half of US Covid-19 cases have been among Black and Latino people.
In the 1800s, Dr. J. Marion Sims experimented on slaves and performed surgeries without their consent and without anesthesia.
So far, phases 1 and 2 have shown the vaccine to be safe. Some volunteers experienced fever and muscle aches, but they felt better after a day or two.
A fast, inexpensive test just got emergency approval
There is some good news: A new saliva test could give Americans a quick way of learning if they have Covid-19 — and if they need to isolate to help prevent the spread.
“If cheap alternatives like SalivaDirect can be implemented across the country, we may finally get a handle on this pandemic, even before a vaccine,” said Nathan Grubaugh, a Yale assistant professor of epidemiology.
“We simplified the test so that it only costs a couple of dollars for reagents, and we expect that labs will only charge about $10 per sample,” Grubaugh said.
CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen, Rosa Flores, Carma Hassan, Madeline Holcombe, Jamiel Lynch, Denise Royal, Chandler Thornton and Dana Vigue contributed to this report.