White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx told Fox News on Saturday night that the U.S. significantly underestimated the number of asymptomatic cases that existed of the coronavirus.
“I think we’re learning every day about the virus and how it interacts with us as human hosts. And that’s been very important to constantly be triangulating data,” Birx said. “I think we underestimated very early on the number of asymptomatic cases. And I think we’re really beginning to understand there are people that get infected that those symptoms are so low-grade that they don’t even know that they’re infected.”
“This is a very complex virus and I want to be very clear: It’s highly transmissible, very infectious, and a lot of people have become infected,” Birx continued. “And what we’ve known now from the very beginning, if you have co-morbidities, if you have heart disease, if you have diabetes, if you have asthma, if you have cancer, if you’re immunosuppressed — all of those issues make you susceptible to a much more difficult course.”
“And still, we’re seeing the majority of the people that we’re losing to this disease have those other diseases that you just described,” Birx continued. “And, so, I do believe that a lot of the diseases we’re seeing in the hospital right now, yes, they may have preexisting conditions. But those preexisting conditions are resulting in them having a much more serious course when they’re infected with this virus.”
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JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: Here to talk about the latest stats and the ongoing White House efforts is the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx.
Dr. Birx, thanks so much for being with us this evening. You know, Doctor, I want to start at the beginning because, in the beginning, it was suggested that the mortality rate would be the five percent and the numbers was so much higher than what we have seen them to ultimately be. But the CDC never used the complete test base to come up with a lethality statistics.
In other words, they didn’t use the number of people who would be exposed to accurately consider the number of people who might be affected by COVID and die from it. Isn’t that a little different from how the CDC evaluated the flu? Because now as we test people, we know more and more have it, and the lethality rate is so much lower.
DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: I think we’re learning every day about the virus and how it interacts with us as human hosts. And that’s been very important to constantly be triangulating data.
I think we underestimated very early on the number of asymptomatic cases. And I think we’re really beginning to understand there are people that get infected that those symptoms are so low-grade that they don’t even know that they’re infected.
And we’re beginning to see that with the New York studies of their sero-antibody studies. So we’re really beginning (AUDIO GAP) and in every other country before they had the antibody test, all they could really see are the cases that showed up with serious symptoms. And so things are changing on a day-to-day basis.
PIRRO: And Doctor, you know, the CDC is mandating that deaths that are affected by COVID be attributable to COVID. So if — if the cause of death, if someone is at a hospital and, say, is dying of cancer or has a heart problem, if you’ve got doctors or nurses wearing the same PPE equipment who may be transferring the COVID on the skin or in a nasal passage, but it’s not in the blood, isn’t it unfair to kind of estimate or suggest that those deaths that aren’t actually caused by COVID are attributable to COVID if COVID is anywhere in the — in the symptoms of the deceased?
BIRX: Well, this is a very complex virus. And I want to be very clear. It’s highly transmissible, very infectious, and a lot of people have become infected. And what we’ve known now from the very beginning, if you have co-morbidities, if you have heart disease, if you have diabetes, if you have asthma, if you have cancer, if you’re immunosuppressed — all of those issues make you susceptible to a much more difficult course.
And still, we’re seeing the majority of the people that we’re losing to this disease have those other diseases that you just described. And, so, I do believe that a lot of the diseases we’re seeing in the hospital right now, yes, they may have preexisting conditions. But those preexisting conditions are resulting in them having a much more serious course when they’re infected with this virus.
PIRRO: All right, well, you know, Doctor, would you agree that it was initially thought that this was a respiratory illness or one that primarily affected the respiratory system. And thus, you know, out of the gate, we started talking about ventilators. And ventilators appeared to be the problem, but — or part of the solution, I should say.
But as we went along, we realized that, you know, it affects blood and the immune system and the kidneys. And so the thinking in the beginning that this needed to be handled with ventilators and finding that 80 to 90 percent of the people went on ventilators ended up dying, did we approach this with the wrong methodology?
Should we have looked to other areas, and did we intubate too soon?
BIRX: Well, the doctors and nurses that are on the frontline, they’re watching every patient very closely. And they are watching them for what we call the oxygen level in the blood, to really ensure because that’s what you need for your brain and your heart, and your kidneys to keep functioning.
And so, if your oxygen level falls too low and it cannot be kept up with just what we call nasal cannulas, or rebreathing oxygen masks, if you can’t get enough oxygen from that, then they will intubate the patient.
I think it’s very important to realize that that early report has been revised that was in JAMA that talked about that higher-level mortality that you just mentioned. And it’s very variable by age. And it’s very variable by laying (ph) the time in the hospital.
And so, we’re finding younger people of about a 75 to 80 percent survival rate on ventilators. And so, you can’t look at just one hospital. You have to look at all the information. But certainly, ventilators saved a lot of people’s lives because they were having trouble getting oxygen into their blood.
PIRRO: And finally, Doctor, isn’t it — wouldn’t it be a better idea to have those low-risk individuals who are now being isolated, even if they are infected, isn’t it a better idea to allow them to go out and at least start develop the herd immunity that we need because they’re only going to develop the disease in a very, very mild way. And isn’t the herd immunity essential to ultimately getting rid of this virus until at the very least we get a vaccine?
BIRX: Well, the most important way to get rid of this virus is to get a vaccine, as you described. When you — we’ve always used the term herd immunity when it comes to vaccination.
No one would use that term, in general, in discussing a pandemic and letting a pandemic run out with this level of mortality that we see with co-morbidities. We have to remember that in America, we have a lot of people, even young people with diabetes and asthma and hypertension.
And so protecting them really becomes very critical because they can have a very difficult course. And so if we knew everybody who would do well off — right immediately, then you could really have that discussion. But we don’t know who has preexisting conditions when we see them on the street.
And that’s why the president’s made it very clear that in opening up America again, there are clear gating criteria, and there are really clear phases that every single state needs to consider. And then the bottom line of all of this is, every individual still taking responsibility of washing their hands, not touching their face, and where they can’t social distance, to make sure that they’re wearing a mask because you wear a mask to protect the other person because when you meet them on the street, you don’t know if they have a preexisting condition and may be susceptible to a very difficult course with this virus, because we still have to remember that there’s 66 — 67,000 people that have succumbed to this virus in just six to seven weeks.
So when people compare it to flu, flu may have some level of mortality, but it’s over weeks and months, not over six or seven weeks.
PIRRO: OK. All right. Dr. Deborah Birx, thanks so much for being with us tonight.