Opinion: Dr. Deborah Birx’s stern warning is a wakeup call


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According to the Washington Post, Birx, one of the White House’s most senior coronavirus advisers, issued her warning in an internal memo on November 2, saying that “We are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic … leading to increasing mortality.” And the White House, she wrote, is not doing enough: “This is not about lockdowns — it hasn’t been about lockdowns since March or April. It’s about an aggressive balanced approach that is not being implemented.”
The President has been singing a different tune. Just days before the election, Donald Trump repeated a claim he made during the last presidential debate and told Iowans that the United States was “rounding the corner” on the pandemic. He has been holding huge campaign rallies in direct violation of public health guidelines advising against large gatherings. He is typically seen in public without a mask, refusing to model the kind of behavior that helps to keep the virus from spreading and saves lives.
Americans should heed Birx’s warnings — and not emulate the President’s recklessness. Birx warns that the US could see more than 100,000 new cases per day this week. As people get sicker and hospitals fill up, we could see a return to the dire situation from the spring, when hospitals were beyond capacity and doctors were talking about rationing ventilators. And like in the spring, Europe is a harbinger of what’s to come — they’re already seeing soaring infection rates, prompting more lockdowns and emergency measures.
This next wave of the pandemic will be fueled by a perfect storm. As temperatures drop, the outdoor gatherings that sustained so many of our social lives through the summer will become increasingly untenable. Many cities and states have relaxed their rules, allowing indoor dining again and sending some people back into the office. The holidays are coming up, with American families typically gathering indoors for Thanksgiving at the end of the month; Christmas is just a month after that, followed by the revelry of New Years Eve. And many of us are experiencing a kind of Covid fatigue, letting down our guards and underestimating our risk.

That’s all understandable. Many of us who have been isolated while working from home and social distancing — often far from our families (or seldom seeing our friends and loved ones) — are exhausted, lonely, anxious and desperate to get some semblance of our old lives back. And those of us who are simply lonely are the lucky ones — many other people are out of a job, or have had their hours cut, or are staring down potential unemployment should this continue through the winter.

But here’s some perspective: More than 230,000 of our fellow citizens are dead. Many more won’t make it through the winter.

The Trump administration has largely abandoned us and abdicated their responsibility to the public (yes, they have increased testing, but Americans still have not gotten the kind of bailout we need to allow us to stay housed, fed and safe). And even if Joe Biden wins the election, he won’t take office until late January, and won’t be able to fully staff up and implement his plans until weeks after that. Unless the Trump administration finally does what Birx and other public health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci are asking — and given their behavior so far, we have no reason to believe they will — we are going to be largely on our own for this long, deadly winter.

So it’s up to us to remember that every choice we make isn’t just about our own health. It’s about the health of our elderly neighbor, our diabetic cousin, our dad with asthma, the little girl who is immunocompromised from fighting leukemia. That means that this might be the year you do a Zoom Thanksgiving and ring in the New Year with your friends via FaceTime. It’ll suck. It’ll be sad. But it is also the only way that more of us will be able to give thanks next year, and celebrate more New Years to come.

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