Gottlieb says U.S. could reach 300,000 COVID deaths by end of the year

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Washington — Former head of the Food and Drug Administration Dr. Scott Gottlieb warned Sunday that the death toll in the United States from the coronavirus could hit 300,000 by the end of 2020 depending on how the American people respond to the virus.

“We’re definitely going to be somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000,” Gottlieb said in an interview with “Face the Nation” when asked whether he stands by his prediction that the U.S. could reach 300,000 deaths by the end of the year. “Whether we’re closer to 200,000 or closer to 300,000 depends on what we do and how this evolves.”

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. surpassed 5 million on Sunday morning, and more than 162,000 people have died from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University. Cases continue to rise in 11 states.

Gottlieb said that there have been two waves of the coronavirus epidemic in the U.S., with the first occurring in New York and the second in the Sun Belt, where it is now receding. But he predicted the country will likely experience a third wave.

“The concern now is that this has become so pervasive across the country that it could start to infect more rural communities that have largely been untouched to date and probably are a little bit more complacent because they have been untouched, but are still very vulnerable because the infection hasn’t been there,” Gottlieb said. “If this does become more pervasive across the country and it’s not just in the urban centers, but also in more rural parts of the country, that’s going to be far more difficult to control if it’s more widespread. And we’re seeing indications of that right now.”

While many governors lifted restrictions on businesses and stay-at-home orders put in place throughout March as the U.S. headed into the summer months, many states reimposed limitations on restaurants, bars and other indoor entities amid a spike in cases.

A growing number of school districts have also opted to begin the upcoming academic year with virtual learning, despite insistence from the Trump administration that K-12 schools allow for in-person instruction when they open as soon as this month.

President Trump has continued to downplay the risk of children infecting others with the coronavirus, telling “Fox and Friends” in an interview last week that they are “almost immune” to the virus. But Gottlieb refuted the president’s claim.

“Children are not immune to this virus,” he said. “We have seen bad outcomes. The CDC recently documented 570 cases of the multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children. There’s more cases that are occurring. We’ve seen children die. There’s 86 kids who died from this and thousands that have been hospitalized. And so this is a risk in children.”

Gottlieb said that as children prepare to return to school, there “ideally” should be a testing regime in place where teachers are tested before they go into a classroom, citing the widespread testing at some universities, where teachers and students are tested several times a week. But Gottlieb conceded the U.S. doesn’t have the testing available “to implement the kind of oversight that we’d like.”

“We don’t have the resources. We don’t have the capabilities right now in most districts to do that. And that really is the bottleneck,” he said. “We need to implement more low-cost tests, tests that could be done at the point of care or at the point of school or work.”

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