California and Washington acted swiftly to mitigate the coronavirus threat, while New York and New Jersey lagged behind – resulting in sharp differences in the states’ current tallies for confirmed cases and deaths, a key member of President Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force said Tuesday.
“California and Washington reacted very early to this,” Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force response coordinator, told reporters during a news briefing at the White House, noting that both states have avoided spikes in infections despite being early leaders when the virus first hit the U.S. in January.
At a separate news conference Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo appeared to concur with Birx’s assessment of his state’s response.
“I am tired of being behind this virus. We’ve been behind this virus from day one,” Cuomo told reporters, according to The Hill. “The virus was in China; we knew it was in China. … You don’t win playing catch-up. You have to get ahead of it.”
As Birx spoke, she pointed to a pair of charts showing the impact of mitigation efforts by California and Washington state officials – such as early testing and shelter-in-place orders.
“This is a slide that gives us great hope and understanding about what is possible,” Birx said, pointing to the first chart. “On the bottom of the slide, where you can barely see, that blue line at the very bottom, that’s the current cases in California. The cumulative cases in California – where they’re doing significant testing.”
In California, San Francisco Mayor London Breed declared a state of emergency Feb. 25 – before the city had recorded any confirmed cases of the virus – and then announced a stay-at-home policy March 16. Three days later, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a statewide stay-at-home order.
Then Birx pointed to another line, again low on the chart, representing Washington.
“We all remember Washington state,” she said. “It was just a month ago when they started to have the issues in Washington state.”
Early in the U.S. outbreak, Washington ranked No. 1 in the nation in both confirmed cases and deaths, in large part because of a virus cluster at a nursing home in Kirkland, near Seattle.
“But they brought together their communities and their health providers and they put in strong mitigation methods and testing,” Birx said.
Now, as of late Tuesday, the state had dropped to No. 8 in cases and No. 5 in deaths.
In contrast, the same chart showed confirmed cases of the virus rising sharply in March in both New York and New Jersey, the two states that now rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation in both confirmed cases and deaths. (In New York, one of the newest confirmed cases was that of Cuomo’s brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo, The Hill reported.)
The second slide showed rankings for all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Again, New York and New Jersey stood out for their noticeable spikes in confirmed cases of the virus, while all other locations were clustered at the bottom – either because of their mitigation efforts or because they haven’t been hit hard by the outbreak thus far.
Again, Birx pointed to the line representing Washington state.
“They’ve been able to, for a long time of measuring cases, not have a spike,” she said. “So it’s possible and we’re watching very closely to make sure it doesn’t have a spike. But that’s what the people in Washington state are doing.
“Washington state, early, about two weeks before New York or New Jersey … California, a week before New York or New Jersey, really talked to their communities and decided to mitigate before they started seeing this number of cases. And now we know that makes a big difference.”
“Early, as Dr. Fauci said,” she added. “If you wait till you see it, it’s too late.”