Coronavirus: White House science advisor warns of protesters

The sight of anti-shutdown protesters crowded together in public, often unmasked, is “devastatingly worrisome,” the White House coronavirus task coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, said Sunday.

But Birx, whose boss President Trump has called the protesters “very good people,” did not take issue with the demonstrators’ message that states must move more quickly to lift coronavirus-related restrictions. Some states are beginning to do so.

In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Birx instead focused on the need for physical distancing, whether by anti-shutdown protesters or by beachgoers in California.

Of the protesters, some of them armed, who crowded into the Michigan statehouse last week, Birx said they risked infecting one other, and passing the virus on to vulnerable people in their lives.

“It’s devastatingly worrisome to me personally, because if they go home and they infect their grandmother or grandfather who has a co-morbid condition and they have a serious or very unfortunate outcome, they will feel guilty for the rest of their lives,” she said. “So we need to protect each other at the same time as we’re voicing our discontent.”

Asked whether it was safe for people to flock to beaches in California, Birx said that depended on proximity.

“If it’s done with social distancing, yes,” she said. “If it’s not done with social distancing, no.”

Trump on Friday urged Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat he has frequently criticized, to talk to the protesters and “make a deal.” Whitmer, appearing Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said citizens had the right to make their views known, and said she understood fear and frustration over economic damage caused by shutdowns.

“We know that people are not all happy about having to take the stay-home pass,” she said. “And you know what? I’m not either. But the fact of the matter is, we have to listen to the epidemiologists and our public health experts.”

Whitmer added that “displays like the one that we saw” in Michigan’s capital, Lansing, including shows of extremist ideology unrelated to the pandemic, did not represent the views of most in her state.

“There were swastikas and Confederate flags and nooses and people with assault rifles,” she said. “That’s a small group of people, when you think about the fact that this is a state of almost 10 million people, the vast majority of whom are doing the right thing.”