The head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force said states like New Jersey would need to take part in a variety of shared sacrifices this fall to prevent, or at least slow down, future outbreaks of COVID-19.
That means face coverings and social distancing, Dr. Deborah Birx said at a Tuesday morning event at Rowan University in Glassboro. And, she said, it means rethinking a litany of expected family gatherings in the coming months, such as Thanksgiving, which might provide the virus with new hosts.
“As Americans, we should be willing to alter our social experiences through the fall to protect one another. Collectively, we can have a fall with less transmission if we work together,” she said, as state health officials warily eye a potential second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks that could coincide with flu season this autumn and winter.
“I know I’m asking people to take further self-sacrifices for the protection of their families, their neighbors and their communities, but I know we can do it,” Birx added.
New Jersey and its surrounding states have dealt with COVID-19 outbreaks in recent weeks.
For New Jersey, the state has seen a surge in the ultra-Orthodox community of Lakewood. Outbreaks have also cropped up in Jewish-majority neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, prompting New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to issue an order mandating the closure of schools and non-essential businesses in 20 of the city’s new hotspots.
Gov. Phil Murphy said during an afternoon COVID-19 press briefing in Trenton on Monday that a similar “surgical” approach might be warranted in Lakewood and surrounding areas. That could mean looking at individual school districts, the closure of local non-essential businesses in hotspot communities, or restrictions on indoor gatherings, the governor added, and working in coordination with local leadership.
When the pandemic rammed into the state in early March, the Murphy responded with sweeping business closures, bans on public gatherings and a stay-at-home order, all as a means to slow the spread of the virus. Those measures show many signs of working, having even garnered the praise of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.
“New Jersey has confronted this pandemic before,” Birx said on Tuesday, calling the response of the Murphy administration, state and local health officials a “message of commitment, transparency and partnership.”
Restrictions have gradually been lifted in the state: Indoor dining, theaters, casinos, theaters, salons and malls have reopened their doors, albeit with intense physical distancing, reduced capacity and sanitization requirements.
But Birx said that the level of restrictions seen across New Jersye in March and April would be extremely unlikely to be needed again.
“I think we all understand how difficult the March and April timeframe was,” Birx said. “The message we’re trying to convey to the Northeast is it won’t look like that this time. What will happen now is going to be very different than March and April, that was very much a large metro spread.”
Rather, Birx maintained, “the majority of spread occurs in communities between families, neighbors and events that occur at the community level,” and should be responded to as such.
“I know we all assume ‘if I know you, you couldn’t have COVID’,” Birx said. “If they’re a member of your family and outside your intimate pod, and you bring them together, that’s potential creating a COVID-spreading event.”