‘This is silliness’: Harvard’s Ashish Jha condemns CDC director’s suggestion that travelers from northern states to blame for COVID-19 outbreaks in south

"Either he's looking at bad data or is learning the wrong lessons."

Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert Redfield, speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing at the Department of Education building Wednesday, July 8, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert Redfield speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing in July. –Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, is quashing the suggestion made by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that travelers from northern states could be to blame for the exploding outbreaks of COVID-19 being seen in southern states.

In an interview with The Journal of the American Medical Association on Tuesday, the CDC’s Robert Redfield said the surge in cases may have been caused by Northerners traveling south for vacation around the Memorial Day weekend.

“If you look at the South, everything happened around June 12 to June 16. It all simultaneously kind of popped… We’re of the view that there was something else that was the driver,” Redfield said, according to CNBC, of whether the reopening plans of states was a factor. “Maybe the Memorial Day, not weekend, but the Memorial Day week, where a lot of Northerners decided to go South for vacations.”

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According to the network, Redfield didn’t provide any data to back up the theory.

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

In a thread on Twitter late Tuesday, Jha expressed concerns about the CDC director presenting such a theory, which he said is based on false reasoning.

“First, infection rates don’t explode around June 12 to 16,” the Harvard doctor wrote. “Most of southern states saw infections start rising around June 1, about a week after [Memorial Day] weekend started.  Not June 12-16 as Bob Redfield says.”

To debunk the theory, Jha pointed out that many of the states, including non-southern states Alaska, Idaho, and Oregon, relaxed shutdown rules around the same time and began to see case counts rise within a similar timeframe. He questioned how the “northern vacationers” didn’t seed cases in their home states before their alleged trips.

“Bottom line is that this is silliness,” he said.

“Not sure why @CDCDirector is pursuing this argument,” Jha concluded. “Either he’s looking at bad data or is learning the wrong lessons. Northern vacationers not cause of big national outbreaks. We have to get better at managing the pandemic. Drawing wrong lessons is harmful to that goal.”

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A leading public health expert during the pandemic, Jha has stressed that stages for reopening must be rooted in data and evidence that states are controlling their outbreaks.


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