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Former FDA chief says reopening now will lead to more suffering from coronavirus

Published May 25th, 2020 2:09PM EDT
coronavirus not contained
Image: Duncan Williams/CSM/Shutterstock

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  • Former FDA chief Scott Gottlieb says the coronavirus pandemic is not contained, and that reopening will inevitably lead to more hospitalizations and suffering.
  • Some US states are beginning to loosen their restrictions and are already seeing an increase in the number of new cases flooding hospitals.
  • Social distancing, mask-wearing, and other preventative measures will only protect us up to a point if we choose to abandon stay-at-home orders and lockdown measures. 

While some areas of the United States are ever so slowly returning to a sense of “normal” in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic, it’s already clear that we’re jumping the gun. Some states are still seeing increasing numbers of coronavirus cases on a week-over-week basis, and deaths continue to mount. Now, Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, says what we’ve all been thinking: COVID-19 isn’t done with us yet.

Gottlieb made his remarks during an interview on Face the Nation, stating that the virus “isn’t contained yet.” He added, “That doesn’t mean we can’t go out and start doing things, get back to some semblance of a normal life, but we need to do things differently. We need to define a new normal.”

If you look at the statistics on a state-by-state basis for coronavirus infections, deaths, and recoveries, there’s no clear pattern to any of it. Some states are still posting record numbers of new infections every week, while others are seemingly on the decline. Others appeared to be declining before reporting troubling data once again.

There are many factors at play here. The number of tests being conducted, the stay-at-home orders still in place in many states, and the reopening of certain public services in others are all playing into the larger picture. What we know for sure is that we’re not out of the woods yet, and not by a long shot.

Gottlieb notes that an increase in new cases in states that began to loosen their restrictions “shouldn’t be surprising.” I suppose that’s true, but if it means more suffering and deaths, then what’s the point? “We expected cases to go up and hospitalizations to bump up as we reopened,” Gottlieb told Face the Nation. “But we need to understand this isn’t contained and it’s continuing to spread.”

“If we do that on a broad basis across a whole population, it can have a big impact on spread,” he explained. “The virus is likely to continue to circulate. We’re likely to have this slow burn through the summer and then face renewed risk in the fall that we’re going to have bigger outbreaks and potential epidemics in certain states and cities.”

None of this sounds very positive, and it shouldn’t. It’s clear that while social distancing, personal accountability (wear your masks!), and shelter-in-place orders helped prevent some new cases and saved lives, abandoning it all just because we’re getting bored and restless is foolish at best.