New coronavirus cases in the U.S. set a one-day record of 83,757 on Friday and reached nearly that amount on Saturday. More than a dozen states across the country reached record virus-related hospitalizations on Friday, based on a weekly average.
“We’re likely to see a very dense epidemic. I think we’re right now at the cusp of what is going to be exponential spread in parts of the country,” Gottlieb said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Monday.
Public health experts have warned for months that cases of Covid-19 were likely to spike in the fall and winter months, as the colder weather forced more people indoors, where transmission of the virus can occur more easily.
At this point, Gottlieb contended there is still an opportunity for the country to stave off reimplementing broad-based lockdowns by using tailored restrictions in areas with significant spread. The former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner cautioned, however, that the window is closing.
“I think we’re at a tipping point right now where if we took some aggressive, targeted steps right now we could potentially forestall the worst of it,” said Gottlieb, who led the regulatory agency from May 2017 to April 2019 in the Trump administration.
Gottlieb has frequently said he believes states across the U.S. are unlikely to revert to widespread stay-at-home orders again, in part because better coronavirus testing makes it easier to determine where hot-spot areas are and in part because the public’s willingness to accept them is low.
“I know people are exhausted. It’s been very hard on families and on individuals, on businesses, especially, but we really have two or three months of the acute phase of this pandemic to get through,” Gottlieb said in Monday’s interview. He called it likely the “hardest phase” yet of a health crisis that has so far killed more than 225,000 Americans, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
“We need to try to pull together and see what we can do to try to control the spread so our health-care systems don’t become overwhelmed. Because once they do, once we reach that breaking point, the policy action that we’re going to need to take is going to be more aggressive, unfortunately, than if we had did some things up front,” he added.