New York, April 3 : The Donald Trump administration indicated that updated guidance will be issued "in the next several days" suggesting Americans wear face coverings when they are outside their home, in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic which has killed more than 5,600 Americans, sickened more than 230,000 in the country and more than a million globally.
Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus coordinator said "debate is continuing" about the likely recommendation for public to wear masks because the White House task force does not want to send the (wrong) signal that a mask is "equivalent" to social distancing. Vice President Mike Pence confirmed that the guidelines "will be coming out".
"I mean, I know you've seen the slope in the United States, versus the slope in Italy. And we have to change that slope. We have to change the logarithmic curve that we're on. We see country after country having done that, what it means in the United States is not everyone is doing it", Birx said, referring to patchwork community adherence to social distancing guidelines.
Birx said she can tell by the curve that "not every American is following it." "And so this is really a call to action. We see Spain, we see Italy, we see France, we see Germany, we see others beginning to bend their curves. We can bend ours, but it means everybody has to take that same responsibility." "So, when the advisory comes out it will be an additive piece", Birx explained.
"And we want to make sure everybody understands it is not a substitute for the presidential guidelines that have already gone out and to be absolutely clear about that." Birx's comments come at a time when new research based on the increasing caseload in the US suggests a rising number of asymptomatic and mild cases are leading to the relentless spike in infection rate among the more vulnerable population.
America's COVID19 hotspots New York and New Jersey, Birx said, are reporting 35 percent of their tests are positive. Louisiana follows close behind with a 26 per cent positive rate. Michigan, Connecticut, Indiana, Georgia and Illinois are at 15 per cent while Colorado, Washington DC, Rhode Island and Massachusetts are all at 13 per cent.
The Trump government is reportedly likely to suggest non-medical masks, T-shirts, bandanas or scarves to cover the nose and mouth when people step outside the home for essential tasks like grocery shopping, pharmacy visits.
This move comes after weeks of zig zag messaging from the White House and the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention against the backdrop of a growing grassroots movement in the US loosely christened Masks4All.
Some states have moved faster than the federal government. On Wednesday, Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, has already urged his city's 4 million residents to wear masks when they are in public.
US guidelines currently in place recommend staying at home, keeping at least 6 feet distance from others, frequent hand washing and not touching your face. The White House has stopped short of telling people to cover their faces when out in public spaces.
This week, the Trump administration revealed for the first time multiple predictive models that are being used to estimate its grim assessment of a 100,000-200,000 coronavirus death toll in the country.
"There's no magic bullet. There's no magic vaccine or therapy. It's just behaviours. Each of our behaviours, translating into something that changes the course of this viral pandemic over the next 30 days", Birx has said repeatedly.
The 100,000-200,000 death toll projection "assumes full mitigation measures" currently in place, according to America's top doctors leading the White House task force. The current guidelines stop short of a complete lockdown, still allowing people to go outside the home for solitary activities and for essential tasks.
"We trust the American people to keep that six feet distance when they go out, meet people. That is why we have not issued a complete lockdown", Birx said. She said that if people maintain "that six feet distance", they have controlled the virus.
(Nikhila Natarajan can be contacted at @byniknat)
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-- The story has been published from a wire feed without any modifications to the text