DHS Secretary says U.S. is 'doing a great job' at reopening despite coronavirus spikes


WASHINGTON — Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told NBC News Sunday that the U.S. is doing a “great job” at reopening amidst the coronavirus pandemic, even as rising caseloads across the country have prompted concern from public health officials.

In an interview with “Meet the Press,” Wolf praised the “dramatic steps” he said President Donald Trump took to slow the spread of the virus. And he said that the guidance from the White House Coronavirus Task Force is helping put states in the position to open “in a safe and reasonable way.”

“We’re seeing a number of states throughout the country in different phases, from phase one to phase three, trying to get this economy, trying to get the country back up and running,” Wolf said.

“We’re doing a great job at that.”

There have been more than 2.2 million coronavirus cases in the U.S. and over 120,000 deaths attributed to the virus, according to data from NBC News and Johns Hopkins University. Overall, there have been about 8.8 million cases and 465,000 deaths worldwide.

While the rate of daily new cases has dropped significantly in New York and other Northeastern states hit hard by the virus in its early months, caseloads are spiking across the country.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, criticized America’s lack of a “national plan” Sunday.

He said that cases are going up partially because many places are “back to a pre-pandemic mindset,” noting that America has about 70 percent of the cases it had at the height of the pandemic earlier this year.

“While other areas have done much better around the world in stopping it after a very difficult period of time with it, we haven’t done that. Part of that is the fact that we just have not really gotten the message across to the public yet that this is a very serious issue, that we can’t shut down our economy but we can’t just suddenly say we are done with it,” he said.

“This virus is operating on its own time under its own rules, not anything we impose on it.”

Osterholm added that he doesn’t see the virus “slowing down” this summer or fall, comparing its spread to that of a forest fire. “Wherever there is wood to burn, this fire is going to burn.”

Twenty-six states have recorded a spike in cases of at least 20 percent over the past two weeks, according to NBC News data. One of those states is Oklahoma, where Trump held an indoor campaign rally Saturday night in Tulsa that key members of his coronavirus task force warned against holding, NBC News reported.

During the rally, Trump called testing a “double-edged sword” because more testing increases caseloads, and said that he told his administration to “slow the testing down.”

The White House said later in a statement that the president was joking about giving an order to slow down testing.

When asked about the safety procedures at the rally, Wolf said that indoor rallies were allowed under Tulsa’s reopening plan, noting the campaign handed out face masks and hand sanitizer to attendees, also checking their temperatures.

And he added that the decision about whether rallygoers should wear face-coverings, something promoted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as public health officials across the country as a key way to slow the spread of the virus, is a “personal choice.”

“We'll continue to provide that resource and guidance, making sure that governors have all the information that they need to make those decisions locally,” Wolf said.

Originally published