Birx stops short of backing national mask mandate during Michigan visit 

By: - September 2, 2020 3:30 pm

Dr. Deborah Birx listens to participants at the National Dialogue on Safely Reopening America’s Schools Tuesday, July 7, 2020, in the East Room of the White House. | Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks via Flickr Public Domain

During a Wednesday visit to Michigan, Dr. Deborah Birx, coronavirus response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, called on Michiganders to continue wearing masks to help reduce COVID-19 spread. But she did not advocate a national mask-wearing mandate as Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have done. President Trump does not support a mandate. 

“So let’s over this Labor Day weekend really protect one another, be stay safe like you have been over this summer keeping those case counts down, so that we can continue to serve all of Michigan with the health care that Michigan deserves,” Birx said to reporters after a private meeting with community leaders and medical professionals at St. Mary Mercy Medical Center in Livonia. “Continue to wear your mask. Continue to social distance. Continue to avoid crowds. Continue to protect your vulnerable family members.” 

Earlier in the day, Birx met with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in Lansing to discuss Michigan’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whitmer also reiterated to Birx the need for a national mask mandate that could save thousands of American lives. 

“This virus remains a serious threat to our families, our frontline workers, and our economy, and what’s needed is more support at the federal level to help us expand testing, ensure everyone wears a mask while in public, support our frontline workers and small businesses, and save lives,” said Whitmer. “I reiterated the need for enhanced federal leadership and clear, consistent communication across the administration during my meeting with Dr. Birx, and I am hopeful that she will take this message back to the president in order to help us protect our families.”

Birx has now visited 26 states as part of the task force.

Whitmer also expressed concern about the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) abrupt change last week to discourage asymptomatic testing even among individuals who may have been exposed. Trump has repeatedly downplayed virus that has sickened more than 6 million and killed almost 185,000 in the United States and has called for less testing.

“This updated guidance, while voluntary, runs counter to what we are learning about this disease and jeopardizes our ability to return to school and work safely,” Whitmer said. 

Birx also pointed out that coordination between hospitals and communities is critical in combating the spread of the coronavirus and treating patients. 

“I thought it was really important that hospitals have established strong relationships between communities, community centers, and federally-funded health clinics,” Birx said. “There are also partnerships that have transcended any particular hospital organization to make sure they can provide care of the largest number of individuals.”

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.