Image via screengrab Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia
Image via screengrab

“We’re right back where we were at the peak of the epidemic during the New York outbreak,” said Scott Gottlieb former Food and Drug Administration commissioner.

Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said he believes workplaces in the United States can be reopened “safely” amid the coronavirus pandemic, even as new cases continue to spike across the country. 

Scalia appeared on Fox News Sunday to tout the new jobs report, which showed 5 million new jobs added in June following the cratering of the economy that brought the unemployment rate to a level not seen since the Great Depression

The partial recovery has been spurred on by states rushing to reopen as countless businesses are on the brink of going under and the federal unemployment benefit set to expire this month. However, the pandemic—also bolstered by the rush to reopen—rages on.

“We have new cases, we have to keep an eye on that,” Scalia said. “I believe that we can continue to reopen our workplaces safely. Our workplaces can be very safe places to be.”

“We can reopen safely,” he added. “We can reopen while the virus is still there, but it will get more challenging if people don’t take [social distancing and mask wearing] seriously.”

Meanwhile, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb told Face the Nation: “We’re right back where we were at the peak of the epidemic during the New York outbreak.”

“The difference now,” he continued, “is that we really had one epicenter of spread when New York was going through its hardship, now we really have four major epicenters of spread: Los Angeles, cities in Texas, cities in Florida, and Arizona.”

According to The Washington Post, the rolling seven-day average for daily new cases in the U.S. reached a high for the 27th consecutive day, passing 48,000 on Sunday. In Florida alone, on Sunday new coronavirus cases exceeded 10,000 in a day for the third time in the past week.

“We knew that as people came out of their homes, emerged from their basements and the like, we knew that cases would go up,” Scalia said. He insisted, however, that “we are far, far better prepared to deal with those cases now than we were just a few months ago,” claiming, in part, that there are now “hospital beds available to deal with the situation.”

Austin Mayor Steve Adler is not so confident. Appearing on State of the Union, he said he worries his city won’t be able to handle the rise in new cases that look to be on the horizon.

“If we don’t change this trajectory, then I am within two weeks of having our hospitals overrun,” he said, noting intensive care units could be overflowing within 10 days.

On CBS’s Face the Nation, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner offered similar comments. “If we don’t get our hands around this virus quickly, our hospitals could be in serious, serious trouble. The major problem is staffing … we can always provide additional beds, but we need the people, the nurses and everybody else in the medical profession to staff those beds.”

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego has blamed the state’s attempt to reopen too quickly for rising case numbers. She also said federal officials dismissed her requests to conduct community-based testing in the area, following reports of people having to wait in line for six hours at some testing sites—a scene that has played out in a number of states

“We were told they’re moving away from that, which feels like they are declaring victory while we’re still in crisis mode,” she observed.

President Trump has said he has encouraged his administration to slow down testing, lest the public become aware of the rise in cases. Health officials have pushed back against claims that increases in testing are responsible for the spike. 

“When the virus is under control, testing doesn’t uncover more cases.” Gottlieb said. “It’s a tool for keeping the epidemic at bay.”

Trump has also said the media is too focused on the rise in new cases, while ignoring a dropping mortality rate. However, Gottlieb said he expects “the total number of deaths [to] start going up again as the number of hospitalizations starts to spike again.”