Gottlieb says social distancing must go on until infection slows

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WASHINGTON — Aggressive social distancing measures should stay in place until there is “sustained reduction” in the number of Covid-19 cases for 14 days, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Sunday.

“So 14 days after you start to see a sustained reduction in the number of daily cases, that’s the point at which you can contemplate lifting some of these measures that we have in place right now, some of these very aggressive social distancing measures,” Gottlieb said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “But you need to do it very gradually.”

But cases in the U.S. continue to escalate, as the number of deaths doubled to more than 2,100 over the past two days.

Gottlieb is a physician and one of the authors of a report released Sunday by the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute that spells out a four-phase plan for navigating the Covid-19 pandemic. He served as head of the Food and Drug Administration under President Donald Trump until last April. Another author of the report, Mark McClellan, is a former commissioner of the FDA and former administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

“You need to have the ability to test the population widely so you can determine who has the infection, who doesn’t, and use case-based interventions, where you isolate individual people.” Gottlieb said. “You also want good information about where the virus is spreading. You need to be testing very widely to know where the virus is spreading.”

Gottlieb, now a resident fellow with AEI, has been a public voice during the coronavirus crisis, and his advice has credibility with the Trump administration and health policy experts.

Measurable slowdown needed

AEI’s report said the first phase, which the nation is currently in, of the nation’s response should be to slow the spread of the disease.

“These measures will need to be in place in each state until transmission has measurably slowed down and health infrastructure can be scaled up to safely manage the outbreak and care for the sick,” it said.

Secondly, individual states can consider measures to reopen once they are able to diagnose, treat, and isolate COVID-19 cases and their contacts, the report recommended.

The third phase should focus on broad surveillance of who has the disease, drugs to help ease the infection, and development of a vaccine, the report said, and is the point at which social distancing measures could being to be lifted.

Finally, the report puts forth recommendations for avoiding a similar infectious disease threat in the future, through investment into research and development, expansion of health care infrastructure and workforce, and strong preparedness plans.

Gottlieb estimated that by the end of the week as many as 750,000 people a week could be screened. He said the ability to screen is going to be limited by the number of swabs or the plastic components used to run the tests, not the screening platforms themselves.

“The manufacturing supply chain for those components is very limited right now,” he said.


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