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WASHINGTON - White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx said Sunday she is concerned that vast numbers of Americans are failing to heed continued warnings to keep a safe distance from other people to prevent the spread of the pandemic.
At least half of the country's 50 state governors have started to open public spaces, such as parks, golf courses and some ocean beaches, while allowing shop keepers and beauty salons to reopen their businesses.
But no U.S. states have met the original White House directive that they see a continuous two-week decline in the number of coronavirus cases before allowing businesses to open their doors again or people to gather in public places.
Birx told "Fox News Sunday" said the best advice for Americans was to continue "steady washing of hands" and to "shelter in place."
She said it was not safe for thousands of people to crowd Pacific Ocean beaches in California on a warm-weather day Saturday.
Birx said that in states where governors have permitted beauty and nail salons to reopen, it is good that beauticians, manicurists and customers have been wearing masks, but said that their close proximity to each other was still not ideal.
She said protests of hundreds of demonstrators that have erupted in some state capitals, such as in Lansing, Michigan, against stay-at-home directives are "devastatingly worrisome to me" because of the crowding of unmasked people.
"If they go home and infect their grandmother or their grandfather who has a co-morbid condition and they have a serious or a very - or an unfortunate outcome, they will feel guilty for the rest of our lives," she said. "So, we need to protect each other at the same time we're voicing our discontent."
Several U.S. drug companies have embarked on an intense effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine by next January.
"On paper, it's possible," Birx said of such a deadline, but offered no firm assurances of meeting that timetable.
More than 66,000 Americans have been killed by the coronavirus. Although U.S. President Donald Trump has suggested that the death toll is near its final number, Birx declined to back off the White House prediction from the early stages of the pandemic that the final death toll would range from 100,000 to 240,000.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves in the southern U.S. backed off reopening his state's economy on Friday after a one-day spike in the number of coronavirus cases but said he could allow openings to occur if the number of new cases drops again.
"We have a public health crisis," he told Fox, "but we also have an economic crisis. I feel [the] pain of businesses and we're doing everything we can to restore our economy."
But in New Jersey in the eastern U.S., with the second biggest number of coronavirus deaths behind New York, Gov. Phil Murphy voiced caution against moving too quickly to fully reopen the state to commerce and recreational activities.
"We're not out of this yet," he said. "We're not in the end zone. I do know we have to make the decisions based on data. We're just not there yet."
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan told CNN, "I think we're making progress. We're very anxious to get our state open, but in a safe way."