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CHICAGO — White House Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Deborah Birx visited Chicago Tuesday to speak with hospital CEOs and those on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle, including Governor JB Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

While visiting 25 other states in the last 8 weeks, Birx said in addition to speaking to local officials, they do a lot of investigating on their own. 

“We look at what’s happening in your restaurants, we talk to baristas because we find they are a fount of information of what’s happening at the community level and we find at least in the Chicago area good compliance with wearing masks,” Birx said.

Birx said she is pleased with how Chicago and the metro area are handling the virus overall, including how residents continue to wear masks and practice social distancing. Additionally, she credited an “integrative hospital system” in Chicago with a low mortality rate. 

In Illinois, Birx said she is most concerned about rural areas that are seeing increases in coronavirus cases. Over the last four weeks there’s been a steady increase in the number of counties with a high positivity rate downstate. 

“When we see those rural counties move into the five percent range and continue to increase, it’s really an alert to every rural community that you need to take the same precautions that the urban communities are taking,” Birx said. 

Ahead of the Labor Day weeked, Birx cautioned against hosting or going to large parties, especially among college students and young adults.

Anyone who is exposed and can’t quarantine until they get test results should at least wear a mask at all times and socially distance from everyone, Birx said, including family members.

“We really have to protect one another even if we know them and maintain that distance even in family and other neighborhood gatherings,” Birx said.

Birx said the millions of people across the country with underlying medical conditions predisposing them to a more serious bout with COVID-19 need to most religiously wear a mask.

Chicago is also home to two COVID-19 vaccine trials. After FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said he’d be willing to issue an emergency use authorization for a vaccine before Phase 3 clinical trials are complete, Dr. Birx clarified those remarks.

“It’s very clear that the FDA is not going to authorize use without definitive efficacy,” Birx said.