Gottlieb rebutted President Donald Trump, in whose administration he served, and who has repeatedly claimed that the U.S. has “rounded the corner” on coronavirus as infections have begun to soar to record heights in recent weeks.
Outbreaks are on the rise in every state, and some states are reporting record hospitalizations, while the U.S. reported more than 99,000 new cases Friday — a new peak — even as Trump continues to play down the virus and hold massive campaign rallies in Midwestern states that are seeing the worst of the latest wave.
Gottlieb said the country is “right at the beginning of what looks like exponential growth” in areas such as the Midwest and the Great Lakes region, a trend he called “very worrisome.”
“The positivity rate is above 10 percent in 15 states,” he noted. “And all of the states are above 1 [percent], which means they’re an expanding epidemic right now. This is very worrisome as we head into the winter.”
A positivity rate for coronavirus tests is generally considered too high if it tops 5 percent.
The former FDA chief also cautioned that as the president continues to spout optimistic assessments of his response to the virus and where the country stands in relation to the pandemic, the facts on the ground will soon be too dire to ignore.
Asked about a blunt interview Trump’s top infectious diseases expert, Anthony Fauci, gave to The Washington Post this weekend, Gottlieb contended: “I think the facts are going to overtake any political dialogue very quickly.” Fauci accused Trump of being unwilling to hear public health assessments that contradicted his desire to move past the virus.
“I think as we get into the next two or three weeks, it will be unmistakable what’s happening around the country, and we’re going to have to start taking tough steps,” Gottlieb argued, though he added that he didn’t envision the kind of shelter-in-place approach that many states opted for in the spring.
He pointed out that he didn’t believe the political support for such drastic measures was there “even at a state level,” suggesting a more targeted approach instead.
Gottlieb urged Trump to focus on getting resources to states that needed them, which includes, he said, getting another stimulus bill through Congress. Talks about such a package between the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have stalled after months of back-and-forth, though Trump has promised a deal can be made after the election regardless of whether he wins.
Gottlieb also pushed for the president to use his position to “galvanize” Americans into compliance with mitigation measures like wearing face masks — a practice Trump has mocked — and argued that win or lose in Tuesday’s election, the president will likely be in charge during the toughest moments of the pandemic.
“This is largely going to play out over the next two months,” Gottlieb predicted. “By the time a president is reinaugurated in January, whoever that is, we’ll probably be through the most acute phases of this, be coming down the epidemic curve. So this is really going to play out under the president’s leadership. What he does over the next two months will be very important.”