As President Donald Trump suggests easing social distancing guidelines to get America back to work, a top official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a grim warning that the mounting coronavirus crisis in New York foreshadows what may soon sweep across America.
“There’s dozens of places we’re watching,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, told the Hill in an article Thursday. “We really need to expect that the whole country’s at risk here,” she added.
“I think what we’re seeing in New York City and New York state right now is a real warning to other areas about what may happen or what may already be starting to happen,” Schuchat continued. The nation needs to “make sure that our health care system’s ready and that we can protect the most vulnerable before we ease up on the social measures that are in place.”
Trump has repeatedly signaled he’s weary of shutdowns and stay-at-home restrictions that are destroying the economy, and suggested America should reopen for business by Easter when the churches are “packed.”
“I’d love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” Trump said Tuesday. “We have to go back to work, much sooner than people thought.” Many public health experts have denounced the idea of lifting restrictions so soon.
Trump told governors in a letter Thursday that regions will be deemed low, middle and high risk to inform the “next phase,” apparently to identify places where he believes it would be safe to relax restrictions.
But Schuchat said parts of the nation could very quickly become high risk, even if they aren’t now. She warned that many cities are likely to face the same dire conditions as New York, where the sick are overwhelming the health care systems, and ventilators for patients and protective gear for health workers are in critically short supply. Thirteen people died on Wednesday alone at a single hospital in Queens.
New York state currently has nearly half of the 86,000 cases in the U.S.
“We need to take this virus very seriously and ... we have to be absolutely sure that our health care system in diverse geographies is ready for increased burden, and that we have good systems to detect, track, isolate and reduce the spread of continued new cases,” Schuchat said.
CDC teams were dispatched to initial virus hot spots in the Seattle area and New York. They’re now expanding to other areas, including Louisiana, Wisconsin and Colorado, she said.
Louisiana reported its first case of coronavirus March 9, and now has over 2,300.
Read The Hill’s entire interview with Schuchat here.