Gottlieb expects "shocking" scenes in New York as coronavirus deaths mount

Gottlieb expects "shocking" scenes in New York as coronavirus spreads

Washington — Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb warned Sunday that the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic in New York state, which has the highest number of deaths in the United States, could be "shocking" and predicted large facilities will likely have to be used to house those fighting the deadly illness.

"I think that the scenes out of New York are going to be shocking. I think that the hospitals in the next two weeks are going to be at the brink of being overwhelmed and we're going to start to see places like Javits Convention Center and other facilities used to start to house people," Gottlieb said on "Face the Nation." "They're going to start getting thousands of admissions coming into that city. And this was infection that started two weeks ago."

There are more than 27,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S., including more than 15,100 in New York alone — the most of the 50 states and territories where people have been infected. The death toll from the virus reached 114 people in the state, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Sunday. The national death count stood at 374 as of Sunday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Cuomo has asked the federal government to establish field hospitals at four sites, including the Javits Center in Manhattan.

In addition to New York, Gottlieb said he believes there are other cities across the country that "are at extreme risk," including New Orleans, where officials are "not taking appropriate measures."

"This is a sticky virus. We're learning that much more of the transmission probably happens from touching contaminated surfaces," he said. "So any city that has a mass transit system is probably at risk and needs to be taking very aggressive steps, cities like Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Boston. You've seen San Francisco implement tough measures. Illinois recently implemented tough measures. We need to continue that right now."

Work on a vaccine for COVID-19, the coronavirus disease, has been ongoing, and last week, human testing began in Seattle. President Trump, meanwhile, has heralded a two-drug cocktail of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin. Gottlieb said there should be clinical trials of the pair, but acknowledged it may not be the most effective treatment.

"What we need to do is what we call a master protocol, where we basically test a lot of drugs at once," he said. "We randomize patients to different treatments so everyone gets a treatment if they need it and we figure out which is working the best."

Mitigation measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus have upended daily life in the U.S. as schools have canceled classes, restaurants have closed and large-scale events from the sports to the entertainment industries have been postponed. Public health officials have urged Americans to severely limit their contact with others.

It remains unclear when Americans will be able to resume their normal activities, and Gottlieb conceded it could be a "slow transition."

"The epidemic right now that's underway is probably going to peak sometime in April, probably late April and tail off into May and June and hopefully transmission will be broken off in July and August," he said.  "We need to plan for what we're going to do in the fall to prevent another epidemic and outbreak. But life's never going to be perfectly normal until we get to a vaccine."