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U.S. is an "outlier" in global coronavirus fight, former CDC director says

Ex-CDC director on coronavirus surge
Former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden on coronavirus surge, testing and wearing masks 04:22

Calling the United States an "outlier" among nations that otherwise have been successful in curtailing the spread of the coronavirus, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that it was a mistake to reopen public spaces, like bars, early, and that the country is paying for that mistake with dramatic spikes in cases and hospitalizations.

Dr. Tom Frieden, the president and CEO of Resolve To Save Lives (an initiative that works to prevent epidemics), also responded on"CBS This Morning" to President Donald Trump's comments this weekend that 99 percent of coronavirus cases are "harmless," saying that complications from the virus are not fully understood.

Former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden, president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives.  CBS News

"I think that part of the challenge here is that we've lost the nuance," Dr. Frieden told co-host Gayle King. "Some people are saying this is a hoax, it's fake, it's not serious. Other people may be saying it's the worst thing in the world, a zombie apocalypse. It's neither. This is a terrible pandemic. It has killed 130,000 Americans. It has sickened many, many more. And we don't yet know what the long-term complications of some of the illness [are]. But it is true that 99% of people who get it will survive.

"We need a more nuanced approach. Right now, the virus has the upper hand throughout much of America, most of America. We can regain the upper hand if we work together. If we work together, we can get our kids back to school in the fall, we can restart our economy, and we can prevent deaths. But we'll only do that by coming together to stop the virus. It's not going to stop on its own; we have to stop it."

He said that to do so we must follow the "Three Ws:" "Wear a mask; wash your hands; watch your distance."

Dr. Frieden also said strategic testing is required, and noted that the focus by some on the mere number of tests taken is "totally misguided."

King asked, "The president is blaming the surge [in cases] on the increase in testing. Does he have a point?" 

"Although it's true we're testing more, we're finding a whole lot more, and so, it is absolutely clear this is a real increase," Dr. Frieden replied. "You don't have to tell the doctors in the emergency rooms who are dealing with tons of patients right now throughout the South and Southeast, Southwest of the U.S. that this is real. It's real."

An increase in cases among younger segments of the population – coming after sections of the country reopened their economies, allowing crowds to gather, many not wearing masks – has become evident. "It was a mistake to open bars early, and we're paying for that mistake," Dr. Frieden said. 

"But there are things that everyone can do to quiet this down. If you're a young adult, remember, you don't want to have the severe illness or death of an older relative on your conscience for the rest of your life. Everyone who is exposed needs to quarantine. Everyone who's within six feet of other people needs to wear a mask. There's a lot of things we can do, and there's no one perfect answer. It's a comprehensive, all-of-society response.

"You know, Gayle, we are an outlier. Countries all over the world – in Africa, in Asia, in Europe – are controlling the virus. It's not easy, but we're not, and we can."

"Scientists are asking the World Health Organization to update us on how the virus is spread," King said. "Is there new information about that, or new concerns about how the virus has spread?"

"We're still not sure of some of the details, and that's one of the reasons we need to do those detailed investigations of every case," Dr. Frieden said. "A great epidemic response learns constantly.

"What the debate is among scientists is, how common is what's called aerosol transmission? That means that fine particles stay in the air for an hour or two. We know it happens some – it happens in health care facilities, when you do certain procedures; it happens when choirs sing. It spews particles out there that can infect a lot of people. It also is true that there is spread from contaminated surfaces. But for all of those things, wearing a mask can make a really big difference. That's why everyone needs to wear a mask when they're within six feet of other people."

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