- Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, warned Sunday against both a too-soon relaxation of social distancing rules and a long-term lockdown.
- He said the meaning of “opening the economy” needed to be clarified, and said the US would see a “major increase” in COVID-19 infections if it attempted a sudden return to normalcy.
- “What we have to do is figure out how not just to die with the virus, but also how to live with it,” he said. “And we’re not having that discussion.”
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Michael Osterholm, the director of the Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota warned Sunday of the dangers associated with reopening the US economy too early, though he also said a longterm lockdown strategy wasn’t appropriate, either.
First, Osterholm said it’s important to clarify the meaning of “opening the economy” when having discussions about relaxing restrictions amid the ongoing pandemic.
“Let me just say that it’s – when we say what we mean by opening the economy, that’s really unclear,” he told “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd on NBC News.
Osterholm seemed to suggest some sort of middle ground approach in reopening shuttered portions of the economy, arguing against both an entire relaxation of current restrictions and a longterm lockdown strategy.
“We can’t stay locked down for 18 months, but at the same time when you have cases increasing, deaths increasing, healthcare workers without adequate protective equipment, and we’re suddenly going back to what was once our normal lives, that’s not a safe place to be,” he said.
He added: “We can’t do that and not expect to see a major increase in cases.”
The majority of states across the US have begun the process of relaxing stay-at-home orders that mandated social distancing by closing businesses considered non-essential. The state of Georgia, which ended business closures at the end of April, saw some 60,000 people flood into the state from surrounding areas after the stay-at-home mandate was lifted.
Even as the White House mulls over plans to reopen shuttered areas of the economy, at least a dozen people with potential access to the president and vice president tested positive last week for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Dr. Deborah Birx, who has been at the forefront of the White House’s coronavirus response, had last month suggested that a “breakthrough innovation” was needed in antigen testing – used to test whether an individual has already had the virus – in order to screen large amounts of people.
“We have to understand that we’re riding this tiger; we are not directing it,” Osterholm said Sunday when asked to respond to the idea of such a “breakthrough.” “This virus is going to do what it’s going to do. What we can do is only nibble at the edges. And I think it’s not a good message to send to the public that we can control this virus in a meaningful way.”
He pointed toward a recent outbreak in South Korea, which has been linked to nightclubs in the nation’s capital city, and an increase in cases in Germany after it relaxed its lockdown as reasons why a back-to-normal approach isn’t likely to work.
Osterholm said we had to speak “honestly” about the virus, adding that Americans do not want the news about the virus “sugarcoated” or “coated in fear.”
“But somewhere between now and tomorrow, next year, we’re going to see 60-70% of Americans ultimately infected with this virus,” he said. “What we have to do is figure out how not just to die with the virus, but also how to live with it. And we’re not having that discussion.”