Coronavirus lockdowns not necessary, health secretary Alex Azar says

US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, with US President Donald Trump, speaks on vaccine development on May 15, 2020, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Friday rejected the notion of another shutdown in the U.S. to curb a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the country.

"You don't need lockdowns," Azar said. "The data clearly demonstrate the interventions we need are simple, they're demonstrated, they're proven. But they're not forcing people to stay in their homes, shutting down our businesses, shutting our schools."

Azar's comments came as daily confirmed coronavirus infections are shattering records, hitting more than 153,000 on Thursday. The total number of cases in the U.S. has reached about 10.5 million, and more than 238,000 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins data.

The number of people hospitalized with the virus hit an all-time high of more than 67,000 on Thursday, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

Certain places in the U.S. that have seen a flare-up in COVID-19 infections are also closing down parts of their economies, including Illinois, which banned indoor dining; Denver, Colo., which tightened its restaurant and social gathering restrictions; and El Paso, Texas, which announced a two-week shutdown of nonessential services (although a judge placed a temporary halt on that order).

Medical staff members treat a patient suffering from coronavirus in the COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU) at the United Memorial Medical Center (UMMC) on November 10, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Go Nakamura/Getty Images)

New York City, meanwhile, is on the brink of closing down its public schools as it sees a surge in virus cases. Mayor Bill de Blasio suggested schools could suspend in-person learning as early as Monday despite research that has shown they are not key drivers of infections. (Internal school testing shows that schools have produced infection rates of just around 0.15%).

"Here's the amazing thing," Azar said. "In the United States, as soon as we see disease spread, so many local leaders and governors go immediately to shutting down our schools. You know what the Europeans do? And you know how cautious the Europeans are. The Europeans have placed a primacy on keeping their universities and their K-12 schools open. They've done so even as they take other aggressive measures in their countries."