WASHINGTON -- Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, shared a painful personal story to implore Americans to take seriously social distancing recommendations designed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
During Wednesday's coronavirus task force briefing, Birx said her grandmother "for 88 years lived with the fact that she was the one at age 11 who brought home flu to her mother," who Birx said "succumbed to the great 1918 flu."
Birx continued: "She never forgot that she was the child that was in school that innocently brought that flu home. This is why we keep saying to every American: You have a role to protect each and every person that you interact with. We have a role to protect one another."
"If you inadvertently brought this virus home to someone with a pre-existing condition, I can tell you -- my grandmother lived with that for 88 years," she said.
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Social distancing practices are implemented by public health officials to keep contagious diseases from spreading. The measures are aimed at trying to cut down the amount of virus spreading around, and ultimately protect those most vulnerable, including the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
In the United States, more than 55,000 people have been sickened and more than 800 have died.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Dr. Deborah Birx implores public to take coronavirus outbreak seriously with heart-wrenching personal story about grandmother