Doctor Scott Gottlieb, a former Food & Drug Administration commissioner, said Thursday that the United States may only be days away from hitting 100,000 new cases of COVID-19, and that the next two months will be the most difficult period of the pandemic so far.
Speaking with CNBC’s Squawk Box, Gottlieb predicted that infections in the US are unlikely to peak before Thanksgiving.
As of today, there are nearly 8.9 million known coronavirus infections in the United States, while the death count is pushing 230,000. These numbers are not only growing, but are accelerating, in 47 states.
Gottlieb does not, however, foresee the US implementing a national lockdown:
I don’t think we’ll see lockdowns in the United States similar to what’s going on in Europe right now where you have a national policy to shut down broad swaths of commecial activity. I think what we’re more likely to see is targeted mitigation. I think states and some cities are gonna put in place measures like curfews, like closing bars and restaurants on a rolling basis as epidemics spike in local regions. One way to keep track of what’s going on around the world is that schools are open in countries like France right now, but bars and restaurants are now closed. In the United States, schools are closed but bars and restaurants are open. That’s really the dichotomy between the United States and the rest of the world.
Because of this, Gottlieb said, the US “is not going to see a slowdown in the pandemic until you see consumer behavior change and until you see mobility data start to decline. That’s been the lesson in the past surges of the virus. The biggest impacts of the virus came when consumers started to express more caution, go out less, wear masks more, and I think it’s gonna take more infection” to wake up the American population.
Gottlieb’s outlook for the remainder of 2020 is bleak.
“That’s why I’m predicting that we’re really not gonna see this sort of start to peak until after Thanksgiving,” he said. “I think after Thanksgiving, that’s gonna be a turning point when the infection levels get high enough in many parts of the country that we start to see policy reaction and also consumer behavior start to change, and so the month of December is probably spent hunkering down a little bit more and hopefully we start to turn the corner a little bit more as we get into the new year.”
Host Andrew Sorkin asked Gottlieb to explain why he believes Americans are so resistant to taking preventative measures.
“Well that’s what happened in the South. If you look at the data in the South, people stopped going out as much, people started to wear masks more, so consumer behavior did change and mobility did start to decline” as cases spiked, Gottlieb replied.
He added that because lawmakers in numerous states are refusing to take COVID-19 seriously, citizens are going to have to navigate the worsening pandemic on their own. And while he believes people are capable of doing that, there will likely be steep collateral damage:
I think consumers are going to lead the way, not policymakers in a lot of these states, and I don’t think consumer behavior is gonna change until we see higher levels of infection in parts of the country. You’re seeing it now in states like Wisconsin, where you’re seeing mobility data start to decline. Consumer behavior does change, it just takes a lot more than where we are right now.
Gottlieb predicted that “Thanksgiving is probably gonna potentiate the spread” of COVID-19. “People are gonna come together after Thanksgiving – I think that December’s really gonna be the more difficult month. But these cases are gonna build all the way through November, so it’s gonna start to look more and more difficult as we get into the month of November,” he said.
“We’ll cross 100,000 infections at some point in the next couple of weeks probably. We might do it this week if all the states report on time,” Gottlieb warned. “We have to see if states like Florida and Texas actually report on Friday and Saturday, because we might get above 100,000 this week.”
Thus, Gottlieb cautioned against holding large holiday gatherings.
“I have older parents. I’m not going to be bringing together a large group of people and risking older individuals who we have so far been able to protect through this virus,” he said. “I think we’ll be celebrating together in 2021, Thanksgiving of 2021. We need to get through the next couple of months. This is the hardest point in this pandemic, the next two months. We can’t give up our guard right now. I think we need to continue to be vigilant.”
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Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.