Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb (see our interview with him here) has warned that nearly a third of Americans will likely be infected with the novel coronavirus by the end of 2020.
“We’re going to probably have by the end of this year, 30 percent of the U.S. population infected,” he said Monday in an interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box.
Gottlieb, who worked at the FDA under President Donald Trump and former President George W. Bush, contended that the overall number of new infections heading into the new year will have implications for transmission of the virus in 2021, when FDA-approved vaccines will likely be deployed across the country.
There are roughly 13.6 million confirmed coronavirus infections in the United States, along with 268,000 related deaths, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
New daily cases in the country recently reached a grim single-day record of 200,000, and the rolling seven-day average of new cases is now more than 160,000. With the Thanksgiving holiday recently concluded, that figure is expected to rise considerably, health experts have warned.
Despite the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calling on Americans to stay home this holiday season, more than nine million people passed through airport gates in the week running up to Thanksgiving and the weekend following it.
Throughout the ten-month-long pandemic, Gottlieb has often asserted that the actual number of infections is likely much higher than what is reported because not everyone who contracts the disease is tested and ultimately diagnosed.
“We’re probably, at best, diagnosing one in five cases right now, maybe a little bit less than that, so this is at least half a million cases a day, probably more in terms of actual numbers of infection,” he said last month.
However, Gottlieb is holding out hope that if the United States can get the numbers of new infections down to more manageable levels and get mass vaccinations started in a few months, the pandemic’s end could be in sight.
“You combine a lot of infection around the country with vaccinating 20 percent of the population (and) you’re getting to levels where this virus is not going to circulate as readily, once you get to those levels of prior immunity,” he said.
Herd immunity aims to have enough people within a population become immune to a disease, often through vaccination or natural infection, to make its spread unlikely. The threshold for herd immunity to the coronavirus is estimated between 60 percent and 80 percent of the population.
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.