Is US heading into 4-week national lockdown? Biden pandemic adviser says only way to avoid 'COVID Hell'

The infectious disease expert emphasized that cases are rising as more people grow tired of wearing masks and social distancing, suffering from 'pandemic fatigue'

                            Is US heading into 4-week national lockdown? Biden pandemic adviser says only way to avoid 'COVID Hell'
(Getty Images)

The US could bring the coronavirus pandemic in control by shutting down businesses and implementing a nationwide lockdown of four to six weeks, with the government compensating workers for lost wages, according to Dr Michael Osterholm, who is part of President-elect Joe Biden’s newly-formed 13-member Covid-19 task force.

Dr Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota, reasoned that a nationwide lockdown would drive the number of new cases and hospitalizations down to manageable levels while the world awaits a vaccine.

“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, states, county governments. We could do all of that. If we did that, then we could lockdown for four to six weeks. And if we did that, we could drive the numbers down, like they’ve done in Asia, like they did in New Zealand and Australia. And then we could really watch ourselves cruising into the vaccine availability, in the first and second quarter of next year, and bringing back the economy long before that,” he told Yahoo Finance. 

Osterholm referred to an August op-ed he wrote with Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis president Neel Kashkari, where they argued for more restrictive and uniform lockdowns across the nation. “The problem with the March-to-May lockdown was that it was not uniformly stringent across the country. For example, Minnesota deemed 78 percent of its workers essential. To be effective, the lockdown has to be as comprehensive and strict as possible,” they wrote in the New York Times.

Osterholm, meanwhile, cautioned that the US is headed toward “Covid hell”. Cases are rising as more people grow tired of wearing masks and social distancing, suffering from so-called “pandemic fatigue,” he added. 

“This is us versus the virus. We are entering this period that I call Covid hell. Back on Labor Day, we were at about 23,000 cases of new coronavirus infection every day. Today, we’re going to be in the 130,000 to 140,000 again. And that number is going to keep rising rapidly. And we have been predicting this. It is a combination of pandemic fatigue, people just being tired of trying to avoid public and places that put you at increased risk, (and) pandemic anger. Up to a third of the US population doesn’t believe this pandemic is real, to begin with. So why adhere to any kind of public health recommendations?” explained Osterholm.

He added, “And then we just have indoor air. We have a situation. We are going indoors right now. We know that virus concentration builds up inside, and transmission is much more there. So we have to tell the story of what’s coming.” 

In October, the leading infectious disease expert had warned that the next several weeks are going to be the “darkest of the entire pandemic” and vaccines will not be available in a “meaningful manner” until early to the third quarter of 2021.

Dr Michael Osterholm is a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s newly-formed coronavirus task force (Getty Images)

The expert emphasized the healthcare systems are already overwhelmed and “we’re talking about potentially doubling the number of cases over this time period before the President-elect even takes office.” He cautioned, “There won’t be any blue or red states anymore, there won’t be blue or red counties. It will be Covid color.” 

Accordingly, said Dr Osterholm, it is important to tell Americans the "story" of what is coming. “We need somebody to tell America this is what in the hell is going to happen. And this is what we’ve got to do about it in a way that they believe it. They understand it. They feel it. And they see that somebody is trying to lead them. And that can be anybody. But I believe the transition team surely is placing the President-elect, in particular, to help guide us. And his message has been very clear.”

Accelerating community spread

Dr Osterholm’s statements come even as the Donald Trump coronavirus task force alerted states of accelerating coronavirus transmission. “There is continued, accelerating community spread across the top half of the country, where temperatures have cooled and Americans have moved indoors,” reports suggested, according to CNN. 

Experts also called for more testing. “The silent community spread that precedes and continues throughout surges can only be identified and interrupted through proactive and increased testing and surveillance. Proactive testing must be part of the mitigation efforts, inclusive of mask-wearing, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and immediate isolation, contact tracing, and quarantine,” they recommended.

According to the Covid-19 tracker of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of November 11, 10,170,846 Covid-19 infections have been reported to the agency, including over 134,383 new cases. Further, 239,590 Americans have died in the Covid-19 pandemic, which includes over 1,859 new deaths.

US Covid-19 cases and deaths as of November 11 (CDC)

New York imposes restrictions

Indoor and outdoor gatherings in private homes in New York state will be limited to 10 people, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on November 11. “The limit will be implemented due to the recent prevalence of coronavirus spread resulting from small indoor gatherings including Halloween parties. These gatherings have become a major cause of cluster activity across the state.

Further, this public health measure brings New York State in line with neighboring states including Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. This new rule is also effective Friday at 10 pm,” the governor announced. Some places such as Oregon, Rhode Island, and Denver had earlier announced new measures such as curfews or limited size of social gatherings to tackle the rise in cases.

Effective Friday (November 13) at 10 pm, bars, restaurants, and gyms or fitness centers, as well as any state liquor authority-licensed establishment, will remain closed from 10 pm to 5 am daily. Restaurants will be allowed to provide curbside, food-only pick-up or delivery after 10 pm, but they will not be allowed to serve alcohol to go. 

The actions were taken amid a widespread increase in cases throughout the nation and an increase in New York, which was expected moving into the fall and winter seasons.

“If you look at where the cases are coming from, if you do the contact tracing, you’ll see they’re coming from three main areas: establishments where alcohol is served, gyms, and indoor gatherings at private homes. The reason we have been successful in reducing the spread in New York is we have been a step ahead of Covid-19. You know where it’s going, stop it before it gets there. And you know where it’s going by following the science,” explained Cuomo.

 He added, “This is the calibration that we’ve talked about: increase economic activity, watch the positivity rate -- if the positivity rate starts to go up, back off on the economic activity. It was never binary — economic activity or public health — it was always both.”

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