Washington — Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, warned Sunday that the protests that have erupted in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and brought tens of thousands to the streets nationwide could lead to a rise in coronavirus cases, just as cities and states begin easing restrictions.
"There's going to be a lot of issues coming out of what's happened in the last week, but one of them is going to be that chains of transmission will have become lit from these gatherings," Gottlieb said on "Face the Nation," adding that Minnesota, the epicenter of the protests, was already experiencing an uptick in coronavirus infections.
"This country isn't through this epidemic," Gottlieb said. "This is continuing to expand but at a much slower rate. But it's still expanding, and we still have pockets of spread in communities that aren't under good control."
The U.S. passed the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus on Thursday, and the death toll in the days since has grown to more than 103,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. There have been more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S.
Still, as some states began seeing a drop in the number of new infections, officials started easing restrictions on businesses that were put in place to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Americans in many states have been encouraged to wear masks to protect others and follow social distancing measures. But the protests against Floyd's death and other unarmed African Americans by law enforcement have brought thousands together in city streets.
The coronavirus has disproportionately impacted African Americans, as well as Hispanic and Latino Americans, which Gottlieb said is a "symptom of broader racial inequities" that need to be resolved.
Higher rates of coronavirus infections among these communities, he said, stem from socioeconomic factors and issues related to housing, occupations and reliance on public transportation. The higher rate of deaths from the coronavirus, Gottlieb said, can be attributed to "poor access to health care, a mistrust of the health care system, some discrimination in health care."
"Stopping the pandemic is going to depend on our ability to take care of our most medically and socially vulnerable," Gottlieb said. "We absolutely need to resolve these underlying problems to eliminate the risk of pandemic spreading of the epidemic."
Gottlieb said resources like testing should be deployed to communities disproportionately affected by the coronavirus and said workers should be reassured that if they become infected, their jobs will be waiting once they recover and return to work.
"We need to support people through the illness," he said. "We need to encourage them to get tested and self-identify. And so you really need to focus the resources on the medically vulnerable communities where this virus is going to spread more actively."
As the country continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump announced Friday the U.S. would be leaving the World Health Organization (WHO). Mr. Trump has railed against the WHO for its handling of the coronavirus, as well as what he says is China's control over the health organization.
But Gottlieb said now is not the right time to leave the WHO, especially as countries in the Southern Hemisphere that rely on the agency are now seeing a spike in coronavirus cases.
"The World Health Organization is a more important entity to a lot of those countries. It is their CDC," he said. "And so pulling out of the WHO right now and pulling away resources from that organization, I think is going to contribute to some of the adversity and hardships that these countries face as they try to battle COVID disease."
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