CDC chief says Northerners heading South for vacation may be to blame for surge in coronavirus cases, not state reopenings

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 30, 2020.

Kevin Dietsch | Reuters

The current surge in coronavirus cases across the U.S. South may have been caused by Northerners who traveled South for vacation around Memorial Day, said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“If you look at the South, everything happened around June 12 to June 16. It all simultaneously kind of popped,” he said in an interview Tuesday with The Journal of the American Medical Association’s Dr. Howard Bauchner. Independent of state reopening plans, “we’re of the view that there was something else that was the driver. Maybe the Memorial Day, not weekend, but the Memorial Day week, where a lot of Northerners decided to go South for vacations.”

Because the South hadn’t yet experienced large outbreaks like the northeast, many Southern states and cities reopened bars and gyms early and didn’t require people to wear masks wearing or to practice social distancing “that seriously,” Redfield said. Once the virus was introduced in those areas, that could have allowed it to spread quickly.

“Something happened in mid-June that we’re now confronting right now,” he added. “And it’s not as simple as just saying it was related to timing of reopening or not reopening.”

The comment by Redfield appears to contradict remarks by White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, who said in an interview Monday that the United States is seeing a surge in new Covid-19 infections because the country never shut down entirely.

Early in the outbreak, U.S. coronavirus cases peaked at around 30,000 new cases a day before falling and plateauing at roughly 20,000 new cases per day in mid-may, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. As some states began to reopen in late April through June, new cases began to surge, Fauci told Stanford Medicine Dean Dr. Lloyd Minor during an interview. The U.S. is now averaging roughly 60,000 new cases a day, according to a seven-day average of cases tracked by University. 

“We did not shut down entirely,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said. “We need to draw back a few yards and say, ‘OK, we can’t stay shut down forever.’ …You’ve got to shut down but then you’ve got to gradually open.”

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