Shutting down businesses for four to six weeks may be the best option currently available to contain the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to Dr. Michael Osterholm, a coronavirus advisor to President-elect Joe Biden.
Osterholm, the director of the Center of Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, noted that many people are suffering from so-called “pandemic fatigue,” which could be playing a major role in spurring this third wave. Colder weather in many parts of the country is also driving people to indoor spaces, where the virus is known to spread more easily.
Until a vaccine is approved and distributed, he added that the federal government could borrow enough money to fund a wide-ranging package that would cover lost income for individuals during the lockdown.
“We could pay for a package right now to cover all of the wages, lost wages for individual workers, for losses to small companies, to medium-sized companies or city, state, county governments. We could do all of that,” Osterholm, who was appointed to Biden’s twelve-member COVID team on Monday, said in an online interview with Yahoo Finance on Wednesday. “If we did that, then we could lock down for four to six weeks.”
Biden’s coronavirus task force will be co-chaired by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler, and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith of Yale University.
Osterholm pinpointed New Zealand and Australia as prime examples of countries that were able to bring the pandemic under control. If the United States can achieve similar results, the economy could gain steam even before the availability of a viable vaccine.
“We could really watch ourselves cruising into the vaccine availability in the first and second quarter of next year while bringing back the economy long before that,” he said.
Earlier this week, Osterholm contended that the country was heading toward “COVID hell” as new coronavirus cases continued to eclipse 100,000 per day.
The United States has already surpassed ten million cases and 240,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, along with several states breaking daily case records.
“We have not even come close to the peak and, as such, our hospitals are now being overrun,” Osterholm said during an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Alley.”
“The next three to four months are going to be, by far, the darkest of the pandemic.”
Osterholm was impressed with Pfizer’s early COVID-19 vaccine that showed 90-percent effectiveness, but he added that more data is still needed.
“Until we have those pieces of information, we can’t really know how much of a game changer this really is,” he said.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.