Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the recent surge in coronavirus cases across parts of the country is the result of the virus’s spreading, not increased testing, as President Donald Trump has argued.
“As a doctor, a scientist, an epidemiologist, I can tell you with 100% certainty that in most states where you’re seeing an increase, it is a real increase,” Frieden told “Fox News Sunday.”
He added: “It is not more tests. It is more spread of the virus. ... The numbers you’re seeing are just a tip of the iceberg of even more spread.”
Trump said last week that he pushed administration officials to slow down testing to avoid the high numbers of confirmed infections. (White House officials claimed he was joking, but the president told reporters days later that he doesn’t “kid.”)
“To be honest with you, when you do more testing, you find more cases,” the president told CBN News on Monday. “And then they report our cases are through the roof.”
There have been more than 125,000 coronavirus-linked deaths in the U.S. and more than 2.5 million confirmed cases of the virus nationwide as of Sunday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
On Friday, the U.S. reported more than 45,000 new cases ― shattering the record for the country’s largest single-day total. Hospitalizations have increased dramatically in several states, including Arizona, Florida, Texas and South Carolina.
Frieden, who led the CDC from June 2009 to January 2017, suggested Sunday that these states reopened too early in the pandemic.
“If you open when cases are still increasing, as many states did, it’s like leaning into a left hook: You’re going to get hit hard,” Frieden said.
He estimated that another 15,000 people in the U.S. will die from COVID-19 in the next month.
Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump appointed to lead the White House coronavirus task force in February, said earlier this week that the death toll in the U.S. could top 240,000.
Meanwhile, Alex Azar, the secretary of health and human services, on Sunday warned that the wave of new infections is a “very serious situation.”
“I encourage your listeners, if you’ve had COVID, call your blood bank, American Red Cross, and please donate plasma to increase our supplies,” Azar said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “So we’ve got the tools to do this, we just did this in the past couple of weeks in North Carolina, but the window is closing. We have to act, and people as individuals have to act responsibly.”
The majority of new infections in Southern states have been in people 35 years and younger who may be asymptomatic and not as seriously at risk, Azar added.
But Frieden on Sunday cautioned against taking too much comfort in the fact that it’s mostly young people testing positive in some states.
“What starts in the young doesn’t stay in the young,” he said. “Younger people have parents, uncles. ... We’re going to see increasing spread. That’s why the three W’s are so important: Wear a mask, wash your hands or use sanitizer and watch your distance.”
Last June, Frieden pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in a sexual harassment case. A 55-year-old woman alleged he grabbed her butt without her consent at his apartment in 2017. As part of his plea, the charges of forcible touching, sexual abuse and harassment against him were dropped.
Watch Frieden’s full interview on “Fox News Sunday” below.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.