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

The current surge in coronavirus cases across the American 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 Dr. Howard Bauchner of The Journal of the American Medical Association. 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 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.

Redfield did not provide any data to back up his theory that Northerners travelling South are to blame for the surge in cases. And as states prepared to reopen gradually, some officials previously warned that regional coordination was necessary so that some states reopening would not attract travelers from areas where the virus is more prevalent.

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

New cases have been steadily rising across the so-called Sun Belt, driven by Florida, Texas and California, which collectively have made up nearly half of all new cases in the U.S. in some recent days. Led by the so-called hot-spot states, the country is now averaging more than 60,000 new cases per day, based on a seven-day average calculated by CNBC using data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

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