Birx: Studying those without symptoms can help prevent greater spread of coronavirus
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Dr. Deborah Birx, member of President Trump’s coronavirus task force, discussed some of the latest revelations learned from data that her team continues to collect, pointing to what they have been able to learn from those infected with the virus who have not shown symptoms.
Birx said that especially within certain limited populations that have experienced outbreaks, examining those who never knew they had it can be vital to advancing the White House’s strategy for monitoring COVID-19.
“I think we’re getting a lot of information out of these isolated outbreaks that are occurring, whether they’re occurring in prisons or among essential workers in packing plants, or specifically gatherings that came together — whether it was a wedding or event — and when you look at those epidemics it isn’t until you start seeing symptomatic groups, so when you go in there and test you find a lot of people have the virus and may not ever develop symptoms,” Birx told Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures,” noting that she thinks “we’re really starting to look at this in a very careful way to understand how we do surveillance.”
Birx said that the administration’s plan for monitoring the pandemic is to conduct both diagnoses and surveillance of at-risk populations. By finding asymptomatic cases early in places like inner cities and long-term care facilities, she said, the government can better determine where the virus has spread before a large number of people get sick.
Antibody tests can also help achieve this by determining whether asymptomatic people have already been infected. Birx said that the government is working on a method for people to have two antibody tests to increase “the specificity and sensitivity of the test to make it more accurate,” with details potentially coming later this week.
Birx further discussed antibody testing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” particularly the World Health Organization’s warning that people who have recovered and have antibodies may not actually be immune to COVID-19.
“WHO is being very cautious,” Birx said, explaining that there are different types of antibodies that have different impacts when it comes to fighting off illness.
“I think what WHO was saying, we don’t know how long that effective antibody lasts,” Birx said, recognizing that “that is a question that we have to explore over the next few months and over the next few years.”
Birx also appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” addressing how states and individuals should handle the coming reopening of certain parts of the country. While Vice President Pence predicted that the worst of the pandemic will be “behind us” by Memorial Day in late May, Birx told NBC’s Chuck Todd that “social distancing will be with us through the summer to really ensure that we protect one another as we move through these phases.”
Birx specifically cautioned at-risk individuals such as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions should still shelter in place, even if their states are following the White House’s guidelines for gradually reopening in phases.