Transcript: Scott Gottlieb discusses coronavirus on “Face the Nation”, November 8, 2020

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The following is a transcript of an interview with former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb aired November 8, 2020 on “Face the Nation”.


MARGARET BRENNAN: The elections may be over, but this new wave of coronavirus cases is just starting to take off. We now want to check in with the former FDA commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb. Hello. President-

DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Bonjour.

MARGARET BRENNAN:… the president-elect says his number one priority is dealing with this pandemic, and he’s going to appoint a task force tomorrow. Some of the names published by his campaign include a former surgeon general from the Obama years, as well as the former Homeland Security Advisor. Realistically, what can a group like this do now, since they don’t take office until the end of January?

DR. GOTTLIEB: Well I think the first thing they want to do is come up with a very clear plan and the president-elect has articulated what he would do. I mean, there isn’t much new to it. We know what works. We know what to do. And so, they want a plan on how they’re going to go about trying to implement their strategy. The other thing the president-elect and his team could do is work directly with the National Association of Governors. We have one president at a time. They cannot rule. They are not in a position to govern, but they can start to work with the governors to try to formulate policy through the governors, with the governors, and try to create a more national strategy that way. Because if you’re not going to have a federally-led national strategy in the next couple of months and it’s going to be state-level, you at least want to coordinate among the different states, then it’s starting to have some semblance of a more cohesive plan.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It sounds like a pretty bleak assessment of what you think the Trump administration could do between November and January to get their hands on the virus.

DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, I’m not sure what they’re going to do. I mean, my advice to them would be to get more aggressive. We are past the election. And I think they need to focus on what we can do nationally. We’ve kind of discussed politically what I think is a false dichotomy, a straw man, that it’s really a choice between lockdowns and no lockdowns. And it is not. We – we don’t need to shut down the country, shut down businesses, tell people to stay home to have some control over this virus. We are not going to have perfect control over this virus. It is a contagious virus. It’s going to spread, but it doesn’t have to be spread at the levels and at the speed that will start to put pressure on the health care system, which we are seeing. We see that in Wisconsin now. It is a question of building field hospitals. Utah Field Hospitals. El Paso has built its fourth mobile mortuary. We have now – we’re going to have a record number of hospitalizations this week. Today, 56,000 people are hospitalized. 11,000 are in intensive care. These are very big numbers nationally and it’s accelerating very quickly.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The president-elect has said he wants to quickly appoint a procurement commander to oversee the production and distribution of the tests, and then possibly a vaccine, equipment, masks and gowns. You said earlier that many of those wheels would already be in motion by the time he takes office. Are these expectations realistic for him?

DR. GOTTLIEB: Well I think you have to do it anyway. The reality is that by the time the president-elect takes office, we’ll probably be at the top, if you will, of what we’re going through right now. You know, it’s going to play out over the next few months. And I think when the president takes office, we will hopefully go down the other side of the epidemic curve. And the only question will be how many people have died during these events and how many people have been infected. And we need to reduce those numbers as much as possible. But there’s still a lot to do, I think, in trying to make sure that you’re going to have adequate supplies of drugs, potentially vaccines, if we have safe and effective vaccines available and the testing equipment, the chain of supply. , because it won’t be over in 2021. I think 2021 will be much better than this year. But you still want to make sure you have adequate supplies as you move down that epidemic curve and head into fall 2021 when we’re going to face risks again. But there’s probably still a lot to do in the short term, especially with the supply chain. It is something that can be affected in the short term. Things like durable medical equipment, testing supplies, gloves, gowns, masks.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So there have been a lot of party gatherings over the past 24 hours, mostly with masks, but not all. And I – I wonder what you think about whether January can even have a grand opening with the usual celebrations.

DR. GOTTLIEB: I don’t think we will. I don’t think we are going to be able to gather large crowds for an inauguration, we are going to be in the midst of the worst moment of this epidemic wave that we are going through right now. And you know, the Biden campaign, the Biden team, have shown that they are willing to forgo the usual pitfalls of running for office so as not to expose people unnecessarily. I suspect they’ll take a similar approach to how they handle the grand opening. I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but we won’t be able to get tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people on the lawn in Washington for a typical grand opening.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we’ve learned that the president’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, is now COVID positive. He was at the White House meeting this week when the president addressed the nation on election night. He had access to tests, regular tests. So I’m just wondering what’s the – the message to ordinary Americans who are planning to celebrate Thanksgiving, and maybe think that if they take a test ahead of time, they are adequately protecting their families. Are they?

DR. GOTTLIEB: No, they aren’t. I mean, testing can help. I think – I – it’s safe to try to get tested if you want to get a bunch of people together. But if you have vulnerable people in that context, I think you still have to be very careful if you want to expose younger people from a larger group to older people who are vulnerable. If you do this, make sure they are wearing high quality masks, try to get an N95 mask and have them worn all the time. Try to keep people separate and away where you can. You know, you have to take a layered approach. Testing alone cannot create a safe, protective bubble –

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

DR. GOTTLIEB: Even the NHL and the NBA, which went through huge tests, weren’t able to use the tests on their own.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Dr. Gottlieb, nice to talk to you. We will come back in a moment.

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