‘You are not immune’: Birx warns rural US residents, says country is in ‘new phase’ of pandemic

FILE - Deborah Birx, coronavirus response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, speaks after a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)

Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, warned on Sunday that the coronavirus pandemic has reached a deadly “new phase,” saying that the virus is now more widespread than during its initial onset earlier this year.

Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Birx said, "What we are seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread. It's into the rural as equal urban areas."

"To everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune or protected from this virus," Birx said. "If you're in multi-generational households, and there's an outbreak in your rural area or in your city, you need to really consider wearing a mask at home, assuming that you're positive, if you have individuals in your households with comorbidities."

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Birx’s warning came shortly after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicted up to 182,000 total COVID-19 deaths in the United States by Aug. 22. The CDC data also predicted that the number of reported COVID-19 deaths per week may rise for the next four weeks in Alabama, Kentucky, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, Tennessee and Washington.

As of Aug. 3, the United States had seen over 154,000 COVID-19 deaths and more than 4.6 confirmed million coronavirus infections, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

When it comes to travel restrictions in the U.S., the situation varies widely. Many states have no restrictions whatsoever for domestic travel. But the number of states with quarantines is growing as governors move to protect residents amid flareups in places such as Florida, Texas and Arizona.

The results are confusing, to say the least.

For example, Maine requires Massachusetts visitors to either quarantine or take a test, but Mainers may travel freely in Massachusetts. Chicago's quarantine order includes neighboring Wisconsin. But people who cross the state line for work are exempted.

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The web of state and local quarantines is growing more tangled by the day: New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have ordered visitors from a whopping 34 states to quarantine for 14 days. Chicago and Washington, D.C., have each singled out travelers from about two dozen states. Other states have their own lists. Some have an option for visitors to get tested instead.

"Complicated doesn’t begin to describe it. I feel sorry for people. They just want to go to Cape Cod. They want to go to Vermont. I don’t know what to tell them. People are pretty much left on their own to figure out,” said Kathy Kutrubes, owner of a travel agency in Boston.

And as Birx warned of the concerning spread of the coronavirus, parents braced for a new school year amid a surge in COVID-19 case counts in rural and urban areas, places where Birx previously warned about rising infection numbers.

Parents in Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee are among those who will be the first to navigate the new academic year as schools open up in parts of those states this week. 

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Many school districts had offered parents a choice of at least some in-person classes or remote instruction. But an uptick in COVID-19 cases in many states has prompted school districts to scrap in-person classes at least for the start of the school year, including in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington.

President Donald Trump has persisted in his view that schools should reopen so students can go back to their classrooms, but the Maryland private school where his son Barron is enrolled is among those under county orders to stay closed.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. This story was reported from Los Angeles.