Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, Saturday, April 4, 2020, in Washington.
Associated Press/Patrick Semansky
Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, told Fox News on Saturday that the US will see a dramatic decrease in coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths by the end of May.
But social distancing will have to continue “through the summer,” Birx told NBC News on Sunday.
Several states have begun to ease social distancing measures, but public-health experts fear that cases could rebound as a result.
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White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx has a rough timeline for how the pandemic will play out in the US over the next several months.
The number of coronavirus hospitalizations, ICU patients, and deaths “will be dramatically decreased by the end of May,” Birx said in an interview with Fox News on Saturday.
The number of cases, she added, will likely continue to rise.
Related: How Long Will Social Distancing Last? It’s Complicated
“As we expand testing more and more into the greater community with much less symptoms, we’ll see additional cases,” Birx said. She added that increased testing could help identify mild or asymptomatic cases “currently circulating in the community.”
But in an interview with NBC News on Sunday, Birx said social distancing would need to continue for several more months.
“Social distancing will be with us through the summer to really ensure that we protect one another as we move through these phases,” Birx said.
Her comments follow the decision of several states to ease social distancing and stay-at-home restrictions.
Georgia allowed certain non-essential businesses — including gyms, hair salons, and tattoo parlors — to reopen on Friday. That same day, Oklahoma reopened state parks and outdoor recreation areas, and allowed personal care businesses to resume appointments. Alaska also reopened retail businesses and dine-in services restaurants on Friday, under the proviso that those businesses operate at 25% capacity.
Some public-health experts fear that easing restrictions too soon could allow cases to rebound.
Health experts predict the US will see cases in the fall
The end of the coronavirus pandemic will most likely be tied to the development of a vaccine — a process that could take about 18 months. On Wednesday, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he was “convinced” the US will see coronavirus cases in the fall.
In the meantime, public-health experts agree that social distancing is key to controlling the outbreak.
“Every model shows that if we open things up now, we will just have a rebound,” Elizabeth Halloran, a biostatistician at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and University of Washington, told Business Insider on April 13.
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Vice President Mike Pence told Fox News on Friday that the US “will largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us” by Memorial Day weekend. A day earlier, he gave a similar timeline to radio host Rush Limbaugh.
“I truly do believe if current trend lines hold, that by early June, we could largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us, and begin to see our nation open back up and go back to work,” Pence told Limbaugh. “If some of those early studies hold out, there will be an awful lot of Americans in the fall and in the winter of next year that actually enjoy a degree of immunity from the coronavirus. That will be a bulwark against this.”
On Sunday, Birx told NBC News that the vice president was referring to models based on data from Detroit and Louisiana.
But Halloran said it’s unlikely that most Americans will be immune to the virus before a vaccine becomes available.
“If I had to put my nickel on it, we don’t have very high herd immunity in this population currently,” she said. “We hope that a vaccine could induce an immunity that will at least keep people from dying.”