12:07 GMT15 August 2020
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    A recent report by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), a US nonprofit investigative journalism organization, reveals that White House official Dr. Deborah Birx last week privately warned leaders in 11 US cities that they must take immediate action to contain their COVID-19 outbreaks.

    According to CPI, Birx, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, warned state and local leaders in Baltimore, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Miami, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and St. Louis in a private phone call on July 22 to take “aggressive” steps to curb their outbreaks. Warnings were not given to the public at large. 

    During the phone call, Birx told emergency managers and other state and local officials that they should conduct contract tracing in areas where more people are testing positive for COVID-19. 

    “When you first see that increase in test positivity, that is when to start the mitigation efforts,” she said in a recording obtained by CPI. “I know it may look small and you may say, ‘That only went from 5 to 5-and-a-half [percent], and we’re gonna wait and see what happens.’ If you wait another three or four or even five days, you’ll start to see a dramatic increase in cases.”

    Birx also revealed during the phone call that the outbreak in the southern parts of the US is moving north, CPI reported.

    “What started out very much as a southern and western epidemic is starting to move up the East Coast into Tennessee, Arkansas, up into Missouri, up across Colorado, and obviously we’re talking about increases now in Baltimore,” she said. “So this is really critical that everybody is following this and making sure they’re being aggressive about mitigation efforts.”

    The phone call came one week after CPI disclosed that the White House had prepared a document saying that more than a dozen states should enforce stricter protective measures such as limiting the size of social gatherings and closing bars and gyms. The document, dated July 14, also placed 18 states, including Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, in the “red zone,” meaning they had more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people during the preceding week. The list of states in the red zone was not disclosed publicly.

    According to CPI, it’s unclear who was invited to Birx’s call, which was hosted by the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. The White House has also declined to comment on Birx’s private warning and why it didn’t make the “red zone” report public.

    In an interview that will air Tuesday night on ABC as part of the special program  “American Catastrophe: How Did We Get Here?,” Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci revealed that the optimistic messages relayed by the White House Coronavirus Task Force do not always match reports from the pandemic’s front lines. 

    For example, the US government is still failing to provide enough protective gear for essential workers as well as widespread testing months into the crisis, ABC News reported.

    “We keep hearing when we go to these task force meetings that these [issues] are being corrected,” Fauci said, according to ABC. “But yet when you go into the trenches, you still hear about that.”

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