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Coronavirus update: U.S. headed for ‘most deadly phase’ of pandemic, says Dr. Birx, contradicting Trump’s insistence it has rounded a corner

‘We are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic … leading to increasing mortality,’ Dr. Birx warns

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By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch


Getty Images
White House task-force coordinator Deborah Birx.

The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus illness COVID-19 climbed toward 232,000 on Tuesday as American voters headed to the polls to elect a president, and the head of the White House task force created to manage the pandemic issued a dire warning.

Dr. Deborah Birx said in an internal report that the U.S. is entering the “most deadly phase of this pandemic,” explicitly contradicting President Donald Trump, who has recently claimed on numerous occasions that the country is “rounding the corner” on the pandemic, according to the Washington Post.

The Post reported Monday night that Birx issued the internal report earlier in the day, urging “much more aggressive action” and warning that “we are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic … leading to increasing mortality.”

“This is not about lockdowns — [i]t hasn’t been about lockdowns since March or April. It’s about an aggressive balanced approach that is not being implemented,” Birx stated in the report, according to the Post. The memo also reportedly warned against the type of mass gatherings that Trump has been holding around the country in the election run-up. The New York Times independently confirmed the Post’s reporting.

Trump has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying of late, including in a midday visit on Election Day to his campaign’s headquarters in suburban Virginia, that the U.S. was about to “round the corner” after earlier promises that the virus would “disappear” or “vanish” as if by “miracle.”

The U.S. counted another 93,223 cases of COVID-19 on Monday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 533 Americans died. The U.S. leads the world with 9.3 million cases and 231,968 deaths, or about a fifth of the global totals, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

In the past week, the U.S. has averaged 85,512 cases a day, up 44% from the average two weeks ago, the tracker shows.

There are currently 48,470 COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals, according to the COVID Tracking Project, the highest number since Aug. 11 and up 57% from a month ago.

Birx’s comments echo the sentiments of fellow task-force member Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who warned at the weekend that “we’re in for a whole lot of hurt” unless drastic action is taken to contain the spread as winter continues. On Sunday, former FDA administrator Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CBS News that “things are getting worse around the country,” specifically warning that Thanksgiving could be an “inflection point” that leads to an even worse situation in December.

Several European countries, facing their own resurgences of the virus after it appeared largely contained during the summer, have reimposed lockdowns, imposed curfews and limited the number of people allowed to gather indoors.

Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and founder of Ariadne Labs, told MarketWatch that it’s “never too late to save another 100,000 lives.” In a wide-ranging interview with MarketWatch’s Jaimy Lee, Gawande said the public needs to pressure the Trump administration on urgent current needs, including working with Congress for testing funding and a consistent message on face masks.

“There are some basic things that can make a huge difference in whether we have another 200,000 deaths by the end of the winter. We could be at half a million deaths by the end of the winter,” he said.

The answer to managing the pandemic has been “really clear,” he said, listing the need for social distancing and not gathering in large numbers. “I think pandemic fatigue has set in,” he said. “But the virus does not care.”

See: Election Day dawns in U.S. as voters choose between Trump and Biden: live blog

In other news:

• Liverpool’s 500,000 residents will be tested for COVID-19 under the U.K. government’s first trial of citywide mass testing, aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus by identifying as many infected people as possible, MarketWatch’s Lina Saigol reported. Under the mass-testing program, dubbed “Operation Moonshot,” everyone living and working in Liverpool will be offered repeat COVID-19 testing, whether or not they have symptoms, with hundreds of thousands of new, rapid-turnaround tests deployed. Around 2,000 military personnel will arrive in Liverpool on Thursday to help roll out the program, which starts on Nov. 6. The pilot will involve a mix of existing swab tests and new lateral flow tests, which can provide a result within an hour without the need to use a laboratory.

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