The CDC Director Just Gave Middle America This Eerie Wake-Up Call

The heartland may not be getting worse, but it needs to be doing better, Robert Redfield, MD, says.

After an incredibly difficult first half of the summer, the U.S. appears to be slowly turning a corner in terms of the coronavirus pandemic. As national new case rates begin to drop, many states are continuing to follow guidelines in the hopes that those trends continue. But the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention (CDC), Robert R. Redfield, MD, says that the pandemic is far from over—and he just gave an eerie wake-up that he wants everyone in the Midwest to hear about COVID.

During a live YouTube discussion hosted by the JAMA Network, Redfield spoke about the current situation that some states are facing. "I will say there's a warning sign that we all have tried to put out there … that we're starting to see," he said. "In the 'red zone' areas, [cases] are falling. But if you look at those states that are in what's called the 'yellow zone,' that are between 5 and 10 percent [positive test rates], they're not falling. So, Middle America right now is getting stuck. And this is why it's so important for Middle America to recognize the mitigation steps that we talk about: about masks, social distancing, hand washing, closing bars, being smart about crowds."

He added: "The Nebraskas, the Oklahomas, we need to see those numbers [improve]."

The Midwest became the focus area for the White House's Coronavirus Task Force in early August after Deborah Birx, MD, said cases were "moving up" to that region from hard-hit southern states. In an attempt to curb future outbreaks, Birx visited 21 states that were in that "yellow zone" where cases could either start declining or spiking further, Redfield noted, offering recommendations on limiting gatherings, wearing masks, and the like.

"We don't need to have a third wave in the heartland right now," Redfield told JAMA. "We need to prevent that, particularly as we're coming on the fall," referencing the arrival of flu season in the coming months.

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The CDC director is not alone in his concern for Middle America. In late July, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) director Anthony Fauci, MD, said Midwesterners need to get ahead of the curve. "What we're seeing now is what actually took place a couple of weeks ago. And what we're going to see a couple of weeks from now, is what we're doing now," he told MSNBC.

In a recent interview with  the American College of Cardiology, Fauci also called the overlap of flu season and coronavirus a potential "worst-case scenario" that would likely "[put] a lot of stress on the health care system." As a result, both Redfield and Fauci recommend as many people as possible get a flu vaccine this year. And for more on that, check out The One Health Appointment You Definitely Shouldn't Skip This Year.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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