Washington — Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, warned Sunday the country is not "out of the woods" yet despite a leveling off in the number of new coronavirus cases in some areas of the country and as governors come under pressure to begin reviving their economies.
"The parts of the country that were later to enter their epidemic portion of this crisis, I think still are going to come out of it later, and you still have to be concerned about that," Gottlieb said on "Face the Nation." "And then really any part of the country is vulnerable, even rural parts of the country, saw that with South Dakota. Once a case gets into a situation where you have people tightly packed indoors, it can spread very quickly. You see these super-spreader situations, as you saw in South Dakota. So I don't think anyone's out of the woods right now."
Gottlieb said people "still need to be worried" about the Southeast and the Sun Belt, where parts of Florida, Georgia and Texas may see a spike in cases.
There have been more than 735,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with the number of deaths nearing 40,000.
With nearly all Americans subject to mandatory stay-at-home orders, governors in more than a dozen states have extended their orders into May. Federal social distancing guidelines currently are in place until the end of April, and President Trump has signaled an eagerness to revive the U.S. economy, which was effectively brought to a halt by the pandemic.
The Trump administration last weekfor governors to consult while determining when and how they should reopen their economies, which details three phases of criteria for areas to begin to return to normal. But governors have warned that they cannot restart their economies until there is increased testing and have criticized the Trump administration for shortfalls in testing capacity.
Gottlieb urged states to band together to take advantage of testing capacity in regional locations but said the Trump administration needs a strategy for the supply chain, as components of the tests, such as swabs, are in short supply.
"Whatever gets produced is getting consumed because it's a global supply chain that testing sites are tugging on," he said. "So if you had the government more engaged in trying to manage that supply chain, getting supplies to the states that need it most and trying to look for ways to increase manufacturing at a national level, that could help the states get the supplies they need. It's not the testing platforms per se that are in short supply. A lot of states have testing capacity within the states. It's the components to run those tests that they're having trouble getting their hands on."
Before life in the U.S. can return to normal and Americans get back to work, Gottlieb has called for employees to offer screenings for workers. Gottlieb said he does not believe governors should mandate onsite testing, but said he is speaking with companies who are working to offer it themselves.
"I think the government can play a role in helping to subsidize these activities in the near term so that we can make sure it's available not just to white collar jobs and offices, but also shop floors and factories where there's actually more risk to employees because it can't naturally social distance or helping small businesses come together and put machines in local communities because they're going to have a hard time doing this," he said, adding that states can help "democratize these kinds of technologies so that employees can take advantage of them."
At the federal level, Gottlieb said Congress should look at ways to provide paid sick leave to people who test positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, or offer a stipend to those self-isolating as they await a test result.
"You don't want getting a positive COVID-19 test result to be punitive. You don't want to tell people they have to self-isolate at home and, oh, by the way, they're going to lose wages and they're going to incur other expenses and hardships," he said. "So while you don't want to make it something that's a financial inducement to get coronavirus, you also don't want to make it punitive. And we have to balance that. We have to find that happy medium."
Legislation passed by Congress last month expanded paid sick leave, though the provisions related to paid leave expire at the end of December.
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