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'Mandates work': Dr. Birx says Iowa's stabilizing case counts prove mask requirements help slow spread

Dr. Deborah Birx spoke one-on-one Friday with Local 5's Chief Political Correspondent Rachel Droze about the COVID-19 pandemic.

DES MOINES, Iowa — White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said face coverings should be required whenever indoors in states that have active COVID-19 cases. 

Right now, Iowa recommends masks be worn at schools, but it's not required. 

Local 5 asked Dr. Birx if she thinks Iowa should implement a mask mandate specific to schools. 

"Any place where you're indoors and they have viral cases in that state, there should be mask requirements," Dr. Birx said.

Dr. Birx said she briefed the Biden team Monday but hasn't been asked to have any role in the next administration as of now. 

"They had very good questions, very well informed questions and as a civil servant, I always stand ready to serve any administration," Dr. Birx said.

Thursday, President-elect Joe Biden asked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases doctor, to serve as his chief medical officer and adviser on the coronavirus pandemic. 

Fauci said he accepted on the spot. 

Dr. Birx: Iowa cases starting to plateau

Transcript edited for clarity

Rachel Droze: "Here in Iowa, we implemented a mask mandate in mid-November when case counts were skyrocketing and hospitalizations were at the highest rates that they've been."

"Should Iowa have done a mandate like this earlier? And are there more mitigation measures we should be taking here in Iowa to keep these case counts under control?"

Dr. Deborah Birx: "Well, first, let me thank the people of Iowa for adhering to the mask mandates because I think we are beginning to see a plateau and a decline in Des Moines and across the state."

"I think this just really shows that mitigation works when we move together, united together and follow the rules."

"The good news is we're beginning to see improvement. The bad news is we don't know the impact of Thanksgiving yet."

"We'll be able to see that starting next week. Now is really the time, if you did gather on Thanksgiving past your household, to really watch for symptoms."

"If you have any co-morbidities or if you're over 65, you need, as soon as you get symptoms, to get tested because that's when the therapeutics, the treatments, work the best."

"If you're younger and you also gathered, really protecting those around you that are vulnerable by wearing masks indoors around them, even if they're in your household until you can get tested and make sure that you weren't exposed to the virus when you got together."

"So some improvement. We're excited by that."

"It shows you that these mandates work."

"It will be very critical to follow these cases after Thanksgiving and to see and assess where you are so you can really talk to everyone in Iowa about what they need to do now because there are more mitigation that can occur if your cases go up again."

'Cases go up, hospitalizations go up, fatalities go up'

Rachel Droze: "A vaccine appears to be right around the corner. COVID fatigue is really starting to set in across the country, here in Iowa, everywhere."

"Especially in a state like Iowa, where we have put a lot of stress on our hospitals in recent weeks, what is your message to the public?"

"You did mention it a little bit, but what are the risks if we do let up on these mitigation measures too soon, even with that vaccine coming?"

Dr. Deborah Birx: "Well, you can see and you know that hospitalizations continue even when your cases start to fall and mortality, or fatalities, to COVID continued to increase." 

"This is because our doctors and nurses and respiratory therapists are working around the clock to save their lives."

"Unfortunately, not everyone's life can be saved, but they try constantly to save people's lives. And so the fatalities are very much delayed."

"We'll be able to see where cases go after Thanksgiving, but you shouldn't have to wait for that. You know what's going to happen if your cases go up."

"Cases go up, hospitalizations go up, fatalities go up."

"So we need everyone in Iowa — I know you're tired of this, I know you're tired of hearing the message — but now is the moment to make sure that the most number of Iowans can be vaccinated, and it's going to take months to vaccinate everyone in Iowa."

"Yes, we will prioritize health care workers and those that are vulnerable, but it's still going to take months to immunize them."

"We're in this together for a matter of weeks to months, but we've been in this together for almost 10."

"We're asking people for the next two months to really do everything they can."

"Physically distance, wear your mask, wash your hands, but most critically, do not gather indoors outside of your immediate household with your mask off, because we know that's where transmission is occurring."

Dr. Birx briefed Biden team Monday

Transcript edited for clarity

Rachel Droze: "What does your future hold? Have you talked to the Biden team at all about staying on and if you were asked, Would you say yes."

Dr. Deborah Birx: "Well, I was privileged to brief them on Monday."

"I will tell you that I was able to go through my interpretation of the data, show them some slides that are often in the governor's report that we provide to Governor's, but across the entire country, so they get an idea of the information that we have and how we're utilizing that information and to really then answer their questions."

"I will tell you they had very good questions, very well informed questions and as a civil servant, I always stand ready to serve any administration."

Rachel Droze: "But no official asks has been made of you yet."

Dr. Deborah Birx: "No official ask has been made."

Dr. Birx says masks should be required when indoors 

Transcript edited for clarity

Rachel Droze: "Here in Iowa, we don't have a mask mandate specifically at schools. Do you think one should be implemented?"

Dr. Deborah Birx: "We know masks work and we know masks work best when they are required for two reasons."

"One, because it sets the tone that this is our expectation of the behaviors of everyone. It's kind of like no shirt, no entry. It's the same principle."

"It also reinforces it because sometimes we forget. If we've left our mask in the car and the retailers are enforcing then it reminds us. It reminds us every single day that what we should be doing to protect one another."

"So that's why mask requirements work."

"They work because they remind us to do the right thing but they also work because of the physics of it."

"Now we know that masks not only protect you from me, but also protect us from getting COVID-19 and becoming infected during this pandemic."

"There is a lot of virus around. There remains a lot of virus around Iowa so we all need to be very diligent to protect ourselves and protect our families."

Rachel Droze: "And so should it be a requirement at schools as well, for students and teachers to be wearing them, not just a suggestion?"

Dr. Deborah Birx: "Any place where you're indoors and they have viral cases in that state, there should be mask requirements."

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