Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb says that coronavirus infections may have spread undetected during the last week of nationwide protests over police brutality, potentially exacerbating the anticipated second wave of new Covid-19 cases that could hit this summer or early fall.
Gottlieb, an appointee of President Donald Trump who ran the FDA from 2017-2019, warned that because these public demonstrations tend to include large numbers of young people, many of whom are more likely to appear asymptomatic even if contagious, those exposed to the coronavirus at a protest could have no idea.
“That increases the risk that you have asymptomatic spread within those gatherings,” Gottlieb told the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast.
He cautioned against developing a false sense of security in outdoor areas and said protesters should seek “high-quality masks” while practicing social distancing as much as possible — even in crowds.
“There’s still risk because you’re bringing together large groups of people and the risk is going to correlate with the background rate in the population,” Gottlieb said. “I think we’re going to see some chains of transmission get lit from these gatherings, and we need to understand that.”
Gottlieb said he was concerned about “worrisome trends even before events of the past week.” He said there are currently about 25,000 new infections diagnosed daily. About 1,000 Americans a day are now dying from the virus. Gottlieb said that while he expects that number will be cut in half soon, he believes it will plateau at about 500.
Gottlieb said that if the overall infection rate stays where it is or accelerates over the summer as the country reopens, Americans will head back to school and work in September vulnerable to a coronavirus resurgence just as the seasonal flu begins circulating.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb speaks during his confirmation hearing before a Senate committee, in Washington in 2017. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
“That’s a lot of risk to be taking into the fall for a second wave, and that’s what I worry about — that we never really crushed the infection, we have this slow burn through the summer, and it sets us up for a very difficult fall COVID/flu season,” Gottlieb said.
Gottlieb was joined by Dr. Kavita Patel, a Yahoo medical contributor and nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution. Both doctors said that additional infections are likely to result from the mass gatherings of protesters demonstrating against police violence against black Americans.
While both doctors said Americans must remain vigilant, including by wearing masks, both fell short of saying people should not protest. Patel pointed out that more than 1,200 top public health and medical workers signed an open letter that was published Friday encouraging officials not to use the pandemic as an excuse to shut down protests. She called the letter an expression of the public health and medical profession’s “abundance of frustration with events.”
“White supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19,” the letter said.
Patel said protesters must think carefully about transmission risks based on their personal circumstances.
“If you are protesting, even in a safe environment, and doing everything you can, if you’re in a household where you have a risk or you’re worried you came into contact with someone at risk, which is a lot of people, you have to do your best to get tested five to seven days later or at least isolate yourself,” Patel said.
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