CDC Director Believes U.S. Is Ready to Reopen But Warns Second Virus Wave Will Coincide With Influenza Season

Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned in a Tuesday interview that while he felt U.S. states were ready to reopen, they'd also need to expand testing and contact tracing capabilities in order to fight a potential second wave of COVID-19 which could hit in fall, right around the nation's annual flu season.

Redfield said the CDC wants to hire an additional 30,000 and 100,000 people to serve as contact tracers nationwide. These tracers would help track and test newly infected coronavirus patients in an attempt to quickly quarantine them and any test any people they may have encountered at home or in public.

Aggressive contact tracing and testing helped both South Korea and Germany reduce the spread of COVID-19 after the start of the global pandemic.

"Ultimately, that number [of contact tracers] is going to be decided by the efforts that we have with the local health departments," Redfield said in a discussion with the political newspaper, The Hill. "But that's ongoing now, and it needs to be in place, operationally ready by October of this year."

Dr. Robert R. Redfield
Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (R) listens during a House Energy and Commerce Committee Health Subcommittee hearing on "The FY2021 HHS Budget and Oversight of the Coronavirus Outbreak" in the Rayburn House Office Building, on February 26, 2020 in Washington, DC. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

Right now, many states are independently preparing their own armies of contact tracers. Kansas reportedly has 400 volunteers, Utah has 1,200 state employees who have offered to help and California has a 10,000 state employees dedicated to the same effort.

Meanwhile, Iowa, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Washington and West Virginia have decided to use their National Guard forces to help, and Massachusetts and Ohio have both partnered with the international health nonprofit, Partners in Health, to assist them.

However, contact tracing can only work if the number of daily cases stabilizes to a low enough number so that workers can track individual cases rather than try and trace chains of transmission amid a great number of new cases occurring all around them.

Redfield said in the interview that the federal government will likely need to invest anywhere from an additional $3 trillion to $6 trillion into local preparations to help combat a potential second wave of the virus which could come during the fall flu season.

These preparations include an increase of flu vaccines nationwide and an investment in state and local health departments along with overhauls of their public health data systems.

"It's a small price to pay finally, once and for all, to stop talking about building the public health infrastructure this nation needs and, more importantly, deserves," Redfield said.

Social policy thinkers disagree about how much national testing will be necessary in order to effectively combat the coronavirus and reopen state businesses with confidence.

The Washington D.C.-based social policy think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), set a target minimum of 110,000 tests a day and a more ambitious goal of 500,000 a day. Alternately, the Safra Center for Ethics in Harvard University says the U.S. needs at least 1 million tests a day, but added that the effort could cost anywhere from $30 billion to $500 billion.

Newsweek reached out to the CDC for further information. This story will be updated with any response.