Dr. Birx warns of 'very acute second wave' of coronavirus infections if social distancing measures are relaxed

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Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, Saturday, April 4, 2020, in Washington.

Associated Press/Patrick Semansky

  • Dr. Deborah Birx warned Wednesday that Americans needed to continue social distancing practices or risk facing a "very acute second wave" of coronavirus infections.
  • "We are very hopeful because of the seriousness of what the American people have taken these guidelines," Birx said on the "Today" show, pointing toward the apparent flattening of the curve in places like Washington state and California.
  • The US on Tuesday reported its deadliest day amid its fight against the novel coronavirus.
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Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, warned Wednesday that social distancing practices needed to be maintained to avoid another wave of COVID-19 infections.

"We're very hopeful because of the seriousness of which the American people have taken these guidelines," Birx said when "Today" show anchor Savannah Guthrie asked whether she believed the death toll would be lower than previous estimates of 100,000 to 240,000. "What's really important is that people don't turn these early signs of hope into releasing from the 30 days to stop the spread. It's really critical."

"You can see the delay," Birx said. "So, if people start going out again and socially interacting, we could see a very acute second wave very early. We are really encouraging every American to continue to follow the guidelines for these 30 days."

On Tuesday, the US experienced its deadliest COVID-19 day so far, with nearly 2,000 reported deaths in a 24-hour period. At least 399,929 people have been infected with the virus in the US, and at least 12,911 have died as of April 8, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

"Each of these epidemics are sub-epidemics," Birx told "Today." She added the federal government was watching various cities and states throughout the US "very carefully for where they are on the curve."

Birx said in Washington state and in California, the curves look "persistently flat" due to social distancing mitigation measures that were adopted early on.

"Obviously New York and New Jersey had a logarithmic rise in the number of new cases, but we're seeing that stabilizing and that gives us great encouragement," she said, adding that the "high levels of mortality" in those hotspots reflect people who were infected with the virus "two to three weeks ago."

The White House at the beginning of April announced its "30 days to slow the spread" initiative, which encourages Americans to follow social distancing practices, though it does not mandate them on a national level. Most states have enacted some form of a stay-at-home order, though, which have closed non-essential businesses and asked residents to remain in their residences.

In New York, which has seen the worst outbreak in the US, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday extended the state's PAUSE order, which orders non-essential businesses closed and forbids the gathering of people, until at least April 29.

At an April 6 press conference, Cuomo pointed out a possible flattening of the curve in new hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and intubations in the state of New York.

"While none of this is good news, the possible flattering of the curve is better than the increases that we have seen," Cuomo told reporters.

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