Deborah Birx Urges Americans to Use Masks, Social Distance Even if 'Restrictions Don't Exist in Your State'

As health officials and government leaders across the U.S. brace for potential consequences of last week's holiday gatherings, Dr. Deborah Birx underscored the importance of heightened COVID-19 mitigation strategies going forward—even if it's only on the personal level.

The coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force encouraged Americans to exercise personal responsibility even if their state or local leaders have not issued mandates that require certain behavioral changes aimed at lowering virus transmission risks.

"To every American: This is the moment to protect yourself and your family," said Birx on Sunday, speaking to CBS News' Margaret Brennan during the morning's Face the Nation program.

"And so, if your governor or your mayor isn't doing the policies that we know are critical—masking, physical distancing, avoiding bars, avoiding crowded indoor areas—if those restrictions don't exist in your state, you need to take it upon yourself to be restrictive," Birx continued.

What is Deborah Birx’s message to the country?

“To every American, this is the moment to protect yourself and your family.”

She urges Americans who live in places without #COVID19 restrictions - like #mask mandates - to “take it upon yourself to be restrictive.”

— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) November 29, 2020

The physician also addressed potential ramifications of Thanksgiving activities, which top health professionals previously warned could fuel a worsening surge in COVID-19 transmission already unfolding across the country.

"We know people got together on Thanksgiving," Birx acknowledged. For all those who did, she outlined a series of added precautions to take during the coming weeks as means to prevent "secondary and tertiary transmissions" from occurring within family units.

"If your family traveled, you have to assume that you were exposed and you became infected," she said. "You really need to get tested in the next week, and you really need to avoid anyone in your family with co-morbidities, or [those who are] over 65."

Newsweek reached out to the White House for further comment but did not receive a reply in time for publication.

Deborah Birx
Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, speaks during a press briefing on July 8 in Washington. On Sunday she urged Americans to use masks and social distance even if ‘restrictions don't exist in your state,’ given the expected uptick in cases after Thanksgiving gatherings. Alex Wong/Getty

The holiday season, and the expected uptick in group gatherings and interstate travel that many fear will continue to accompany it, comes amid a spike in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths reported in dozens of U.S. states since September. More than 13.2 million people have tested positive for the respiratory disease and roughly 266,000 people have died nationwide as of Sunday morning, according to figures updated by Johns Hopkins University.

U.S. virus numbers began to climb again with the onset of fall, after a lull in transmission seen over the summer. Numerous state and local officials reimplemented previous restrictions on businesses and gatherings in response, while others effected mitigation protocols for the first time.

In November, a majority of state governments have implemented directives that require residents to wear face masks in public spaces. About a dozen have yet to do so—statewide mask mandates do not exist in Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee or Wyoming, and Kansas law permitted most counties to reject the governor's order at their own discretion—although most still encourage mask use and permit local officials to enact their own mitigation orders.

Several states included in that list are currently seeing some of the country's most severe COVID-19 outbreaks. Some state leaders, like North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, recently answered calls for broad mask mandates to help manage the virus's increasing spread. However, others, like South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, have continued to resist issuing official directives.