Dr. Birx Calls Florida, Texas and California the 'Three New Yorks'

Three months after New York state became the epicenter of the nation's coronavirus outbreak, the White House's coronavirus task force coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, said the country is now facing "three New Yorks."

Birx called upon the American people to behave responsibly during a Today show interview Friday morning and said everyone should assume they have the virus in order to protect those with underlying health conditions and others in vulnerable groups. The U.S., which has more virus cases than any other country, surpassed 4 million cases less than 24 hours before she appeared on the program, just 15 days after reaching the 3 million mark.

Birx said it was important to "change our behavior now" before the virus is able to mount a resurgence in places like New York, where its spread devastated hospitals in late March and April. Because of the intensity of its outbreak, New York was the state with the greatest number of cases until Wednesday, when California surpassed New York's virus case count with more than 400,000. For about three months, New York also held the record for the state with the largest single-day increase in new cases, until Florida broke it on July 12 with 15,299.

"What we have right now are essentially three New Yorks," Birx said. "We're really having to respond as an American people, and that's why you hear us calling for masks and increased social distancing, to really stop the spread of this epidemic."

Deborah Birx
White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx holds up a mask as she speaks during a media briefing on July 8. Birx said on Friday that the country is dealing with "three New Yorks" as it battles increasing cases of the virus. Alex Wong/Getty

Birx also drew attention to the four states that have emerged as coronavirus hot spots over the past month: Arizona, California, Florida and Texas. Arizona lags behind the other three in terms of case numbers, with 152,944 reported on Thursday, but Florida and Texas each had more than 360,000 cases confirmed the same day.

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump said during a coronavirus task force briefing that the outbreak in the U.S. was likely to get worse before the country sees an improvement. According to Birx, the scale at which the situation declines will depend on how the next hot spots handle the virus.

"Until you can see that explosion, it's hard for people to understand how deeply you have to clamp down," Birx said. "That's why we called out the next set of cities where we see early-warning signs, because if you make changes now, you won't become a Phoenix."

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

As the U.S. continues to report new case surges, several countries in Europe that battled the virus earlier this year appear to have their outbreak under control. Asked why the U.S. was still reporting outbreaks three months after the one in New York exploded, Birx said the task force has learned a lot in that time about how extensively rising infection rates can affect an area's population.

"I think we have a lot more knowledge now that, when it just ticks up a little, even before you see a significant increase in cases, that is a real indicator that something is happening," she said.

Birx also emphasized the importance of wearing masks, practicing social distancing and avoiding mass gatherings, all of which she said were key tools in bringing the outbreak under control.

"It's very serious, and it's very real," she said of the nation's epidemic.