US coronavirus transmission rate ‘may be the new normal’, former FDA commissioner warns

‘The most likely scenario is that cases go up’

James Crump
Tuesday 05 May 2020 20:11
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Former FDA chief warns US may not be able to lower coronavirus infection rate

The US may not be able to lower the transmission of coronavirus much more than the current rate, former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has said, warning this may be the “new normal”.

During an interview with Savannah Guthrie on NBC’s Today show, Mr Gottlieb said that the US will struggle in the coming months to keep transmission rates for the virus much lower than the current level of 30,000 new cases a day.

“I think that we need to understand this may be the new normal,” he said. “We may not be able to get transmission down much more. I hope we can,” the former FDA commissioner added.

Mr Gottlieb told Ms Guthrie that instead of a fall in transmission rates, he expects the numbers to rise, as the summer continues and social distancing measures are eased in states across the US.

“The most likely scenario is that cases go up, not down,” Mr Gottlieb said. “And so we need to think about what it looks like in the country if we have transmission of this virus and we try to get back to some sense of normalcy.”

Although positive cases are falling in New York, he added that “there’s about 20 states where cases are going up on a daily basis, and so are hospitalisations”.

Mr Gottlieb spoke to Ms Guthrie the same week that two separate forecasters predicted that deaths related to coronavirus will increase in the US in the coming months.

An internal Trump administration model, has predicted that deaths from coronavirus in the US will increase to 3,000 a day from 1 June, according to a report obtained by the New York Times.

Separately, a model created by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, is now predicting that 134,000 people will die from coronavirus in the US, a figure that is close to double its previous prediction.

Ali Mokdad, a professor of Health Metrics Sciences at IHME, told CNN that the increase in predicted deaths is due to social distancing measures being relaxed in states including Texas and Georgia.

He said that one of the reasons for the increase in predicted deaths “is increased mobility before the relaxation, premature relaxation, of social distancing,” and said that “we’re seeing an increase in mobility that’s leading to an increase in mortality, unfortunately, in the United States”.

Despite the concerning figures presented by the two models, Mr Gottlieb told the Today show that it’s unclear whether the models are accurate, but insisted that the US should prepare in case the predictions become reality.

“Modelling is imprecise and that’s why we shouldn’t put stock in any one model,” he said. “It’s not like forecasting the weather where you make a prediction and then you see what happens. You make these predictions and then you take actions based on those predictions.”

According to a tracking project hosted by Johns Hopkins University, there are now upwards of one million people who have tested positive for coronavirus in the US. The death toll has reached at least 70,115.

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