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Birx says coronavirus outbreak has entered new phase, with infections in urban and rural areas

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House  coronavirus task force leader.
Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus task force leader.Alex Wong/Getty

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- White House coronavirus task force leader Dr. Deborah Birx says widespread coronavirus infections in urban and rural America mark a “new phase” for the pandemic as she doubled down on calls to wear face masks and observe social distancing measures.

Birx, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning, said “What we are seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread.”

The United States has the world’s biggest number of cases at 4.6 million, or one-quarter of the total, and 154,361 deaths. Birx said mitigation efforts across the west and the south are beginning to work but warned that people need to take the virus seriously and employ significant safety precautions when cases first begin to tick up.

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Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she doesn’t have faith in Birx, whom she ties to misinformation spread by President Donald Trump.

Pelosi was asked on ABC’s “This Week” whether she had confidence in Birx.

The California Democrat replied: “I think the president has been spreading disinformation about the virus and she is his appointee so I don’t have confidence there, no.”

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Birx said she has respect for Pelosi and attributed the sentiment to a New York Times article in which Birx is described as embracing overly optimistic assessments of the coronavirus.

Birx said that she has “never been called Pollyannish or non-scientific or non-data-driven. And I will stake my 40-year career on those fundamental principles of utilizing data to really implement better programs to save more lives.”

On Saturday, Florida health officials have reported 179 new deaths from the coronavirus, bringing the state’s total to more than 7,000.

The latest numbers came Saturday as Hurricane Isaias threatened Florida’s eastern coast, but no evacuations were immediately announced. The National Hurricane Center’s latest prediction had the storm scraping past Florida but not making landfall.

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Hospitalizations for the coronavirus have been declining for the past week and a half, with fewer than 8,000 treated for the coronavirus on Saturday. That’s down from highs of more than 9,500 last week.