CDC Director Says Fall May Be 'One of the Most Difficult Times' in Public Health Ever

Robert Redfield, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has said the coming fall and winter months may be one of the toughest in the country's public health history.

Redfield made the comments in an interview with Dr. Howard Bauchner, Editor in Chief of the science journal JAMA, where he covered topics including masking and potential vaccines.

Looking ahead to the winter, Redfield said he was "worried."

"I do think the fall and the winter of 2020 is probably going to be one of the most difficult times that we've experienced in American public health" he said, as COVID-19 and the flu will coincide.

Redfield said he wanted the public to embrace the flu vaccine to "minimize the impact."

"Those two respiratory pathogens hitting us at the same time do have the potential to stress our health system," he said.

Addressing the rise in COVID-19 cases in the South, Redfield the CDC tried to give states guidance on how to reopen safely, but that few actually followed it. However, he said he doesn't believe reopening has driven

The virologist said northerners vacationing in southern states may have contributed to the spike in COVID-19 cases.

Redfield said outbreaks appeared one after the other in the north east, but in the south "everything happened around June 12 to June 16. It all simultaneously kind of popped" independent of whether locations did or didn't reopen.

"We're of the view that there was something else that was the driver," he said, pointing to the week of Memorial Day "where a lot of Northerners decided to go South for vacations." The CDC director said areas in the South hadn't taken mitigation steps seriously because they didn't really have outbreaks "but something happened in mid-June that we're now confronting right now. And it's not as simple as saying it was related to the timing of reopening and no reopening." Redfield didn't cite any data to back up his claim.

His remarks prompted criticism from Dr. Ashish Jha, Professor of Global Health and Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, who described them as a "bombshell." Jha said the available data shows infection rates didn't explode around 12 to 16, but most southern states saw infections start to rise around June 1, about a week after Memorial Day weekend.

Jha asked if it was "a coincidence" that states where cases started rising around the same time, within a week of Memorial Day, relaxed around the same time. Newsweek has contacted the CDC for comment.

In conversation with Bauchner, Redfield went on to cite data from antibody tests to state there was limited transmission of the coronavirus in January and February, but there were "probably" 20 million infections between March and April, although only 2 million were diagnosed.

That meant there was likely 150,000 to 200,000 infections a day, with around 20,000 detected. Bauchner said the paper on the antibody testing is due to be published in journal JAMA Internal Medicine early next week.

On Tuesday, Redfield co-authored an editorial for JAMA entitled Universal Masking to Prevent SARS-CoV-2 Transmission—The Time Is Now.

Speaking to Bauchner, Redfield said: "I think if we could get everybody to wear a masks right now I really do think that in four, six, eight weeks we could really bring this epidemic under control."

Regarding vaccines, Redfield said there was a mission to have one available to the American public by January 2021, and he was "optimistic" something would be ready before the start of next year. "We're on an accelerated course here that I've not witnessed before," he said.

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CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield looks on while testifying at a Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on manufacturing a Coronavirus vaccine on Capitol Hill on July 2, 2020 in Washington, DC. Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Images)