States That Reopened Haven't Seen Any Spike in New Coronavirus Cases, HHS Secretary Azar Says

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Sunday he has not seen any spikes in new coronavirus cases in states that recently reopened "non-essential" businesses.

The HHS chief expressed optimism that state governments have the tools to avoid new outbreaks of COVID-19, as several places including Wisconsin, South Carolina, Georgia and Colorado enter new phases of reopening local businesses. Several states have recorded record highs in the number of new daily coronavirus cases, but those numbers are in direct correlation to an increasing amount of tests being made available to residents. Newly reported deaths tied to the virus have leveled off or decreased.

During a CNN interview, host Jake Tapper said to Azar that it's "intriguing" that some states that reopened "despite warnings of dire consequences from health experts" have -- so far -- not seen any dramatic spikes in new cases. "Is it still too early to tell?" he asked Azar Sunday morning.

"We are seeing that in areas that are opening, we're not seeing the spike in cases," Azar said. "We still see spikes in some areas that are, in fact, closed, very localized situations. And so this is going to be very important for us to watch the circumstances on the ground."

A representative for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services told Newsweek Sunday that the state's steady increase in new positive coronavirus cases, 502 between Friday and Saturday and 410 the day before, are on par with their expansion of testing. Last week, many "nonessential" businesses including bars and restaurants reopened after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down a statewide "safer at home" order which had kept them closed them for weeks.

Wisconsin saw a drop in new positive cases between Saturday and Sunday and its 7-day average has remained steady. But state health officials noted there can be a lag time of around 14 days between infection and potential hospitalization among those who experience symptoms of coronavirus.

Azar said in the interview that the key to the reopening of state economies and businesses is the surveillance of asymptomatic individuals as well as those in congregate living situations like prisons or nursing home facilities.

He said the Trump administration has set a goal for 300 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine to be available to Americans by the end of 2020, although he noted this is "not a pledge." Azar added that reopening "does not depend on a vaccine" getting developed, but that the Trump administration is "committed to delivering a vaccine" using the full power of the federal government and private sector.

Many states that began reopening on May 1, including South Carolina and Wisconsin, have seen their highest daily numbers in new coronavirus cases, but this comes as the federal and state governments have worked together to expand testing.

On Saturday, South Carolina's health department did not announce any new deaths from COVID-19 over the previous 24-hour period, which remained at 380 from Friday. However, the state did report a new daily high of 276 new cases on Saturday -- up from 218 on Friday. Governor Henry McMaster lifted the home or work order in South Carolina on May 1.

"More testing has led to an increase in positive test results and we encourage everyone who needs to get a test to get a test," Wisconsin Department of Health Services communications representative Jennifer Miller told Newsweek via email Sunday.

"We likely won't know for another 14 days or more what impact the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling will have on case counts, though we are preparing for an increase of cases if people do not practice physical distancing or continue healthy hygiene practices," she added.

Texas is another state that posted its highest-yet amount of new cases in one day on Saturday. But health officials there echoed the sentiment of other states which have reopened by saying an increase in testing has boosted that number. Texas, however, has failed numerous times to reach its testing goals.

new cases coronavirus wisconsin reopening
The HHS chief expressed optimism that state governments have the tools to avoid new outbreaks of COVID-19 as several places including South Carolina, Georgia, Wisconsin and Colorado enter new phases of re-opening local businesses. Scott Olson / Staff/Getty Images