The following is a transcript of an interview with former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb by CBS News' Margaret Brennan that aired Sunday, June 14, 2020, on "Face the Nation."
MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to more news this week on the coronavirus crisis. Former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb joins us from Westport, Connecticut. Good morning to you.
DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Good morning.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Can you set us straight here? The CDC said this week that expanded testing is what accounts for this increase that we're seeing in COVID-19 rates and that hospitalizations nationally are going down. But then Dr. Anthony Fauci publicly said that what's happening is, quote, "something obviously that's disturbing." Who is right? What's going on?
DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, hospitalizations nationally are flat. They're not going down, they're flat when you look at the total hospitalizations across the entire United States. And what we're seeing is that parts of the country that had persistent spread, that never really crushed their epidemic, now have flare ups in- in the cases, surge in cases as they reopened. That was expected. But the challenge is that parts of the country, states like Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, where you see those outbreaks right now, never really reduce the number of cases substantially. They had spread. It was persistent. And now it's flaring up. So in Arizona, you see 1,500 cases recorded recently in Florida 2,600, California, 3,700. To put that in perspective, at its peak of the epidemic in New York City, there were 5,000 cases a day recorded. Now, granted, we weren't diagnosing as high of a percentage of cases, but these are pretty big outbreaks right now underway in these parts of the country. And what you also see is the positivity rate going up. The percentage of people who are testing positive is increasing. So that's a bad combination. Seeing cases go up and seeing the positivity rate also increase suggests that there are outbreaks underway.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do we know enough at this point to attribute the uptick to the reopening?
DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, it's certainly attributed to the reopening. I mean, we all expected that as we reopened, we were going to see an uptick in cases. So in some respects, we shouldn't be surprised by this. I think the challenge for these states and these cities, if you look at Texas, the outbreak is really centered around Houston and Austin. The challenge is that they aren't able to trace it back to a certain set of sources or activities so they can't take targeted measures. What we're going to have to do going forward is take targeted mitigation steps to try to contain these outbreaks by perhaps closing certain venues if you find that bars are the source of the spread. You might temporarily close bars or limit the number of people who can be in. Or if you find that certain large gatherings, outdoor gatherings are the source of the spread, you might target those kinds of gatherings. Right now, we haven't been able to trace them back to the source because we don't have all that track and trace work in place. And so that's a challenge for public health officials. In the state of Arizona, that's largely left to local officials, to the counties. You might see the state start to take that over if they can't start to trace these cases, this surge in cases, back to the sources.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You also have large demonstrations and now Trump political rallies that are being planned. You had Dr. Birx from the task force tell governors this week that shouting can actually offset the benefit of wearing a mask. That's obviously relevant to anyone going to a rally or to a demonstration. Do you agree with her?
DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, look, I agree with her. We've seen data now from the CDC that shows choir groups in places where people were singing lead to spread within confined spaces. Obviously, the risk is a little bit diminished when you're outside versus indoors. But we know these large gatherings are going to lead to more spread. The spontaneous protests around the country are going to lead to additional spread. Certainly holding a large political rally will as well. That's in an indoor space. It's a confined space. And so we need to be mindful of this. I mean, there's things you can do to reduce the risk. You can require people to wear masks. You know, with respect to the protest. It's a shared responsibility, not just of the people attending those protests to try to wear masks and engage in good practices, but also the police tactics, which probably contributed to the spread, the spraying of tear gas, grouping people together. This is a shared responsibility to try to reduce the risk in these settings.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You worked in the Trump administration. I know you know how important to the president having these political rallies is. But you're a doctor. Is it advisable for him to be going to these places where there are upticks and holding rallies? Would you go?
DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, look, I would certainly counsel against it. If I was giving advice to the administration on this, I would say that they should withhold large political rallies right now. They also need to lead by example. And so encouraging people to social distance, encouraging people to wear masks, that's what we should be engaging in right now. And that political example is a powerful message to the- to individual people all across the country. We're taking an awful lot of infection into the fall. We- we think that we can sort of manage at 20,000 diagnosed infections a day. The virus wants to infect 50 to 60 percent of us. That's the characteristics of this virus. It's not going to be content just to infect 20,000 people a day. And so if we carry all this infection all the way into the fall, it's unlikely we're going to be able to--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
DR. GOTTLIEB: --keep it at these kinds of levels and we need to be mindful of that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The CDC says masks should be worn at all times. They issued this on Friday with an eye toward some of these gatherings. You recently have changed your recommendation on the type of mask that people should be wearing. What are you advising?
DR. GOTTLEIB: Well, look, we know the- the better the quality the mask, the more protective it's going to be to the individual. There's a study in Lancet that showed that in N95 masks are 96% effective versus surgical masks, which were only 67% percent effective. And we've seen that health care workers that didn't wear N95 masks had a higher rate of infection. And so ideally we want to be providing high quality masks to individuals. Any mask is better than no mask. A good cloth mask is going to provide a level of protection, but not as much as an N95. And there's enough supply entering the market right now that in three, four months we should be able to provide N95 masks at the very least to high risk individuals. I think we need to look at ways to try to get higher quality masks into the hands of senior citizens, people who are immunocompromised or at higher risk of infection. Right now, the states are stockpiling these masks and so is the federal government. California just purchased one hundred and fifty million with an order to purchase another two hundred and fifty million. So as the states fill their stockpiles and hospitals do I think in three or four months we're going to be in a position to start providing these to consumers. Right now, consumers can go out and get them. They're expensive. They're harder to get, but they're starting to become available in the commercial- in the commercial channel for consumers.
MARGARET BRENNAN: An important change. Thank you very much, Dr. Gottlieb. We'll be right back.