Dr. Michael Osterholm said Wednesday that a national lockdown may be the best way to keep hospitalizations and deaths down across the country until a vaccine can be distributed.
He claims that the country’s economy will not suffer as a result, if enough money is borrowed to pay wages during the shutdowns.
Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, is one of the public health experts that the Biden transition team has appointed to its advisory panel.
Biden says that the advisory board ‘will help shape my approach to managing the surge in reported infections’.
It comes as coronavirus hospitalizations and infections hit single-day highs in the U.S., although deaths are still about half what they were in the peak in April.
On Wednesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo already began pulling back opening hours of bars and restaurants, ordering them to close at 10pm daily from this Friday as cases in the state rise.
This graph shows infection rates in key US states as compared to major countries in Western Europe, with Wisconsin currently seeing a higher infection rate than France, Spain or Britain
Coronavirus patients occupy the greatest percentage of hospital beds of any states in North and South Dakota, Health and Human Services data shows, though it tends to lag and North Dakota now says its hospitals are at 100% capacity as of Wednesday
More than 70% of ICU beds are occupied in 34 states amid the surge in hospitalizations
Dr. Michael Osterholm, who was appointed to Biden’s COVID-19 task force Monday, suggests that the U.S. should go into a national four- to six-week lockdown as it awaits a vaccine
Osterholm, however, believes that a more stringent national lockdown is needed, with uniform restrictions taken in each of the states if the rise in cases is to be combated.
He told Yahoo News that cases are rising as more people are being forced indoors due to the cold weather, where the virus can spread more easily.
It also comes as people suffer from ‘pandemic fatigue’ and grow tired of wearing masks and social distancing, he suggested.
‘We could pay for a package right now to cover all of the wages, lost wages for individual workers for losses to small companies to medium-sized companies or city, state, county governments. We could do all of that,’ he said, according to CNBC.
‘If we did that, then we could lockdown for four-to-six weeks.’
He also referenced a New York Times op-ed written by him and Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari in August in which they had argued for a wider national lockdown.
‘The problem with the March-to-May lockdown was that it was not uniformly stringent across the country. For example, Minnesota deemed 78 percent of its workers essential,’ they wrote.
‘To be effective, the lockdown has to be as comprehensive and strict as possible.’
Osterholm suggested Wednesday that such as lockdown would bring the U.S. in line with the likes of New Zealand and Australia where new daily cases have been reduced to under ten cases.
‘We could really watch ourselves cruising into the vaccine availability in the first and second quarter of next year while bringing back the economy long before that,’ he said.
Yet Osterholm suggested that there were worse days ahead for the country if this kind of action isn’t taken.
He spoke of places such as El Paso, Texas, where officials have already closed businesses as the healthcare system becomes overwhelmed.
President-elect Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden honor military veterans with a stop at the Philadelphia Korean War Memorial at Penn’s Landing on Veterans Day on Wednesday
Osterholm said Wednesday that a national lockdown may be the best way to keep hospitalizations and deaths down across the country until a vaccine can be distributed. A nearly empty Times Square pictured in March 2020 during New York City’s first lockdown
Osterholm, who was among the members of Biden’s task force the transition team announced on Monday, claimed that ‘people don’t want to hear that El Paso isn’t an isolated event.
‘El Paso, in many instances, will become the norm,’ he added, touting Biden as the person to explain this to the American people.
‘I think that the message is how do we get through this. We need FDR moments right now. We need fireside chats. We need somebody to tell America, “this is what in the hell is going to happen”,’ he said.
Earlier this week, Osterholm suggested that the country is going to ‘Covid hell’ if it doesn’t take actions to tackle the rising cases soon.
He said that the next three to four months will be the darkest period for the pandemic so far as new daily cases continue to reach far above 100,000.
‘What America has to understand is that we are about to enter Covid hell,’ he told CNBC. ‘It is happening.’
‘We have not even come close to the peak and, as such, our hospitals are now being overrun,’ Osterholm added. ‘The next three to four months are going to be, by far, the darkest of the pandemic.’
President elect Biden has also spoken of the need for action before a vaccine is distributed as state officials voice concerns about the logistical issues involved in distributing the vaccine once one is ready.
‘It’s clear that this vaccine, even if approved, will not be widely available for many months yet to come,’ Biden said Monday. ‘The challenge before us right now is still immense and growing.’
Massive vaccine campaigns are nothing new but stamping out COVID-19 is a new challenge due to a number of factors: The short time frame for vaccinating a huge number of people, the logistics of shipping out doses to every stretch of the country and the very low temperature (-94F) at which some vaccines must be stored.
The federal government’s effort to distribute the vaccine is being led by the Health Department’s Operation Warp Speed and involves both the CDC and Department of Defense.
While distribution is being handled on a federal level, state and local healthcare providers are responsible for storing and administering vaccines once delivered.
President elect Joe Biden has also suggested that action must be taken to stop the rise in cases as there could be a months-long wait until a vaccine is distributed across the country
How states are re-imposing lockdown measures
CALIFORNIA: Under a tiered system, hard-hit areas such as Los Angeles County are under the toughest restrictions with people told to stay at home and bars, restaurants and gyms all closed, although LA parks and golf courses are still open.
CONNECTICUT: The state’s Phase 2 re-opening has been modified into a so-called Phase 2.1, which means restaurants must stop table service at 9.30pm and private gatherings have been cut to 10 people.
IDAHO: Under a health order signed on October 27, outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 per cent of maximum capacity and indoor ones to 50 people. Customers must remain seated in bars and restaurants.
ILLINOIS: A regional system of ‘mitigation measures’ has now been applied to the whole state, with no indoor service in bars or restaurants, which must also close at 11pm. Gatherings are limited to 25 people.
NEW MEXICO: Retail business must close by 10pm, while food and drink establishments can offer no more than 25 per cent of their maximum capacity for indoor dining.
NEW YORK: Governor Andrew Cuomo announced new measures on Wednesday which means bars and restaurants must close at 10pm, along with gyms. The rules apply to New York City as well as upstate New York.
State officials have now found themselves scrambling to make preparations after the CDC asked states to have plans in place to start administering a vaccine as early as November 15.
Those officials say they’ve had just weeks to prepare large-scale efforts after only learning of specific storage requirements, including the need to store at least one vaccine in ultra-freezing conditions, in mid-October.
Claire Hannan, who is executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers and helps states implement vaccine programs, sent one of her colleagues an exploding head emoji when asked how they were going to implement the vaccine roll out.
‘These challenges are so unprecedented. I don’t have anything to compare to,’ Hannan told CNN.
Osterholm made the comments on the need for a national lockdown as the U.S. hit records for hospitalizations and cases, with the number of patients spiking to 61,000 and daily infections hitting 136,000.
There were 61,964 people being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals nationwide on Tuesday, according to COVID Tracking Project data.
That toll surpassed the previous single-day high of 59,780 hospitalizations recorded back in April at the peak of the first coronavirus wave and the peak 59,718 hospitalizations in July.
Infections across the country hit a record high of 136,325 cases on Tuesday. Cases have been surging since early October with the seven-day rolling average for cases now at more than 118,000.
Despite the huge surge in cases and hospitalizations, the number of Americans dying from COVID-19 is not rising at the same rate.
The seven-day rolling average for deaths is currently just under 1,000 per day and is at its highest point since August. Daily deaths on Tuesday were at 1,420.
Yet deaths, which are a lagging indicator and can potentially rise weeks after infections, are still down from the peak 2,000 fatalities recorded per day back in April.
This new wave appears bigger and more widespread than the surges that happened in the spring and summer – and threatens to be worse.
The spike in cases can, at least in part, be attributed to an increase in testing. Hospitalizations are a key metric of the pandemic because, unlike case counts, they do not rise and fall with the number of tests performed.
There were 61,964 people being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals nationwide on Tuesday, according to COVID Tracking Project data. That toll surpassed the previous single-day high of 59,780 hospitalizations recorded back in April at the peak of the first coronavirus wave
Vacant storefronts in downtown El Paso, Texas, is late October as the city reports a record number of active coronavirus cases and the healthcare system is overwhelmed
While fatalities could still potentially rise given it takes time for people to get sick and die, doctors believe the death toll might not be as bad as the initial waves because doctors now better know how to treat severe cases, meaning higher percentages of the COVID-19 patients who go into intensive care units are coming out alive.
Patients also have the benefit of new treatments, namely remdesivir, the steroid dexamethasone and an antibody drug that won emergency-use approval from the Food and Drug Administration this week.
Health officials have warned that patients could start dying if hospitals become overwhelmed.
Researchers forecast that 63 million lives could be saved if most Americans wear masks and social distance.
Health Secretary Alex Azar has said that temporary hospitals will be set up to treat people where health systems are close to being overwhelmed, including in the Midwest and California.
Several states posted record numbers of cases on Tuesday, including over 12,600 new cases in Illinois, 10,800 in Texas and 7,000 in Wisconsin. Texas has now become the first state with more than 1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases.
California and several states across the Midwest have now started tightening restrictions on residents.
New York is also experiencing a spike where Gov. Cuomo on Wednesday began efforts to stave off the ‘second wave’ of COVID-19, even though deaths and hospitalizations in New York City are steady.
As well as forcing bars and restaurants to close by 10pm, Cuomo is limiting gatherings in private residences to 10 people and say he may reduce the capacity restaurants and bars can have indoors if numbers continue.
The statewide COVID-19 rate increased to 2.9 percent which is the highest it has been for months and deaths are increasing in some parts of the state but not all.
In New York City, deaths have been holding steady despite the rising infection rate.
It delivers yet another blow to the restaurant and bar industry which was only allowed to resume indoor dining at a 25 percent capacity last month after being ignored for months.
Cuomo said during his press briefing that anyone who doesn’t comply with the new order will receive a summons ordering them to shut down.
‘Losing money hurts but money can be replaced. Losing a loved one is forever. If the lights are on and people are drinking, they get a summons,’ he said.
Outdoor dining can continue into the winter months if restaurants and bars can facilitate it.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, echoing Cuomo’s tone of alarm on Wednesday, said: ‘This is our LAST chance to stop a second wave. We can do it, but we have to act NOW.’
Many states are experiencing a troubling spike in cases ahead of the holiday season as health officials warn that people from different households should not celebrate Thanksgiving together indoors unless masks are always worn.
Even then, they suggest that gatherings should be held outdoors as much as possible.