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Health expert Zeke Emanuel says 250,000 Americans could die of COVID by end of year

Dr. Zeke Emanuel on "The Takeout"
Dr. Zeke Emanuel on "The Takeout" 47:14

Bioethicist Dr. Zeke Emanuel is predicting that up to 250,000 Americans could die directly from the coronavirus by the end of the year. In an interview with CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett, Emanuel, who is the vice provost for Global Initiatives and chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, slammed the Trump administration's response to the pandemic as "incompetent and pretty disastrous."

"Before the year is out, we'll probably have, I would think, between 220,000 and 250,000 Americans who died directly from COVID, not to mention those people who are dying indirectly," Emanuel said in this week's episode of "The Takeout" podcast. Emanuel singled out people with heart conditions or in need of cancer treatment who may not visit the doctor due to concerns about catching the virus as factors contributing to high indirect mortality rates.

"You'll have a huge increase in mortality because of COVID, and that is, it seems to me, to be a failure," Emanuel said. Emanuel is also a senior fellow for the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, and he is also on former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign task force to address the coronavirus.

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Highlights from this week's episode:

  • Zeke Emanuel on the possible death toll of the virus by the end of the year: "Before the year is out, we'll probably have I would think between 220 and 250 thousand Americans who died directly from COVID, not to mention those people who are dying indirectly."
  • Coronavirus testing: "We were extremely slow to develop good testing and we still don't have the best testing that we should."
  • Reopening schools in the fall: "We need to open up primary and secondary schools in the fall. I think it's really important. I think you can do it safely. But whenever I say it, I don't mean 'no COVID,' I mean 'you will get COVID and kids will get COVID,' but you can do it in a way that tries to minimize those cases."
  • Importance of wearing masks: "I heard someone saying, 'Oh only sissies wear masks.' Baloney! You wear a mask because you don't want to spread it to someone else, and you don't want to catch it from someone else."

Emanuel noted that several states have seen an uptick in cases in recent weeks, and that the daily death tolls are comparable to what they were at the onset of the pandemic in the U.S. in March.

"That's not progress, that's regression. In some ways, you can say we've wasted four months," Emanuel said. He also shot down President Trump's claim that 40 million people had been tested. Forty million tests have been administered, with some people receiving multiple tests.

"We were extremely slow to develop good testing, and we still don't have the best testing that we should," Emanuel said.

However, Emanuel and the Trump administration do agree on one point: Schools should be reopened safely in the fall.

"We need to open up primary and secondary schools in the fall. I think it's really important. I think you can do it safely. But whenever I say it, I don't mean 'no COVID,' I mean 'you will get COVID and kids will get COVID,' but you can do it in a way that tries to minimize those cases," Emanuel said. "It's not risk-free. Life is not risk-free. But I think it's probably worth it."

Emanuel bemoaned how wearing a mask has become politicized, in part because the president has largely avoided wearing a mask in public.

"I heard someone saying, 'Oh only sissies wear masks.' Baloney! You wear a mask because you don't want to spread it to someone else, and you don't want to catch it from someone else," Emanuel said. "Will it absolutely protect you? No. Will it decrease your chance of getting COVID? Yes."

For more of Major's conversation with Emanuel, download "The Takeout" podcast on Art19, iTunesGooglePlaySpotify and Stitcher. New episodes are available every Friday morning. Also, you can watch "The Takeout" on CBSN Friday at 5pm, 9pm, and 12am ET and Saturday at 1pm, 9pm, and 12am ET. For a full archive of "The Takeout" episodes, visit www.takeoutpodcast.com. And you can listen to "The Takeout" on select CBS News Radio affiliates (check your local listings).  

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