Former FDA commissioner explains what America needs to do before reopening the economy

What will it take to reopen U.S. economy?
What will it take to reopen U.S. economy? 02:37

Last Updated Apr 14, 2020 7:15 PM EDT

Dr. Anthony Fauci, America's top infectious disease doctor, has warned that the U.S. is not ready to restart the economy. President Trump had hoped to reopen the country by Easter, but as the holiday came and went, experts said it could still be several more weeks or even months before that happens. "CBS Evening News" anchor and managing editor Norah O'Donnell spoke with Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the FDA, who has written a road map outlining what it would take to overcome the coronavirus pandemic and get America back to work.

Norah O'Donnell: Is the nation ready yet?

I think we are getting ready. You clearly see a decline in cases. I think that we are heading toward a trajectory that we can start to contemplate potentially reopening aspects of the country in May and into June.

But it is going to be a slow process. We want to do it gradually, and we want to evaluate along the way to make sure that, as we go back to work, as we bring non-essential employees back to work, we are not triggering a spike in new cases. 

As part of your road map, you know that you need a decline in cases, but you also talk about the systems that need to be in place. What are those systems?

You want the ability to broadly test the population. The other thing you want is you want to reserve capacity in the health care system, so we need to make sure the health care system itself is no longer overwhelmed. And you also want the ability to do what we call contact tracing. Basically, when you identify a positive case, you want to ask that individual to self-isolate at home, so that they can't spread the infection. That's the bread and butter, if you will, of public health work in terms of controlling an epidemic. 

Then what is the acceptable level of risk that Americans should be able to take in order to return to work?

This is an infection that's going to be with us for a long time. We're going to have to learn to live with some element of risk here. And I think we're going to face a bigger risk heading into the fall, as we go back to school, as college campuses go back into session. And the fact that this virus probably has a seasonal component to it, it's probably something that is going to have a seasonal aspect where it's going to want to come back in the fall.

CBS News started a series this week called Racing to a Cure, and given that a vaccine won't be available until a year to 18 months from now, what do you see as the most promising pre-vaccine treatments that are out there?

Well, there's a number of antivirals that act directly on the virus itself. A handful in advanced development that could potentially be available within the next several months. And so I think if we have by the fall, one or more of these antibody drugs available, combined with an antiviral drug that acts directly on the virus to inhibit its replication, that could be used early in the course of the disease to prevent people from getting very sick. That kind of medicine cabinet, I think to be very effective in helping to mitigate the significant risk from this virus.

We don't need a magic cure here. We don't need a magic bullet. We don't need something that cures the virus. We can have a therapeutic toolbox that can mitigate the risk of the virus and help prevent spread and in certain patients.