US health officials on Friday urged Americans to continue adhering to social distancing and other COVID-19 safety measures, and warned that states may need to reimpose strict restrictions if COVID-19 cases spike.
In recent weeks, experts have raised concerns that the reopening of the US economy could lead to a fresh wave of infections. About half a dozen states, including Texas and Arizona, are grappling with a rising number of coronavirus patients filling hospital beds.
The top US infectious disease official on Friday cautioned that the “blips” of rising coronavirus hospitalizations being reported by some states could get out of control if robust contact tracing regimes are not put in place.
As restrictions on economic activity are lifted, the United States was bound to see increased infections, Anthony Fauci told CNN.
“But when you start seeing more hospitalizations, that’s a sure fire sign that you’re in a situation where you’re going in the wrong direction,” Fauci said.
Officials from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the public should continue to maintain 6 feet of social distance, wash hands regularly and wear facial coverings to reduce the risk of infection.
“If cases begin to go up again, particularly if they go up dramatically, it is important to recognize that more mitigation efforts such as what were implemented back in March may be needed again,” said Jay Butler, the deputy director of infectious diseases at the CDC, who spoke to reporters along with CDC Director Robert Redfield.
So far, more than 114,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States, according to a Reuters tally. About half a dozen US states are grappling with a rising number of coronavirus patients filling hospital beds.
Texas and North Carolina on Friday reported their highest hospitalization rates since the pandemic began. But officials in both states point out they also have among the lowest rates of deaths from COVID-19.
Fauci underscored that increased hospitalizations was a worrying trend, however, and a sign that “maybe we need to slow down a little” on reopenings.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on Friday that while his state’s rise in hospitalizations and new cases was sobering, moving ahead with more reopenings was not off the table.
Texas has been at the forefront of states’ efforts to reopen their economies and Governor Greg Abbott on Friday said in an interview with KYTX TV it would remain that way “because we have so many hospital beds available to anybody who gets ill.”
“For every person in a hospital bed, there are 10 open, available hospital beds available for them,” Abbott said. “So there’s plenty of hospital capacity to be able to deal with COVID-19.”
He added that there is “no real need to ratchet back the opening of businesses in the state.”
A handful of states and cities have paused or slowed reopenings.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown said she would put county applications to reopen on hold after the state reported a record daily rise in new coronavirus cases on Thursday.
“This is essentially a statewide ‘yellow light,’ it’s time to press pause for one week before any further reopening,” Brown, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Utah’s Republican Governor Gary Herbert on Friday ordered most of the state to halt reopening while it investigated a jump in cases.
“I don’t want to go forward and then take a step backward,” Herbert said of the order that remains in effect until June 26.