Former Biden COVID-19 adviser: ‘We are in the eye of the hurricane right now’
Michael Osterholm, a former Biden adviser on COVID-19, warned on Sunday that although progress was being made in combating the coronavirus pandemic, the threat from new virus variants still loomed.
While appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Osterholm was asked by host Chuck Todd how vulnerable the U.S. currently is as states begin to lift pandemic restrictions. Osterholm is a former member of Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board during the transition.
“Let me just say we are in the eye of the hurricane right now. It appears that things are going very well,” Osterholm said. “We’ve been through a terrible, terrible year. But what we know is about to come upon us is the situation with this B.1.1.7. variant. A virus that originated in the United Kingdom, that today is wreaking havoc in parts of Europe.”
Osterholm noted that several countries in Europe have recently resorted to 2-month lockdowns in order to contain the new variants. Early research has found that its possible variants such as those from Brazil and South Africa are capable of re-infecting those who have already recovered from a previous COVID-19 case.
“Last time I was on your show four weeks ago, the B.1.1.7 variant had about 1 to 4 percent of the virus we were seeing in communities across the country. Today it’s up to 30 to 40 percent.” Osterholm told Todd. “And what we’ve seen in Europe when we hit that 50 percent mark, you’ll see cases surge. So right now we do have to keep America as safe as we can from this virus, by not letting up on any of the public health measures we’ve taken, and we need to get people vaccinated as quickly as we can.”
Todd also noted during the interview that CDC guidance for those who have been vaccinated has not been released thus far and asked Osterholm what his recommendations would be.
“What is the public likely to do with any guidance that we give them?” Osterholm asked. “If we just tell people that they’ve got to stay cocooned, that they’ve got to stay in their homes, that they’ve got to continue to wear their masks even though they’re fully vaccinated, they’re not going to do that. They’re going to disregard the public health recommendation.”
The epidemiologist stated that he would not go into a crowded restaurant at this moment even if he was vaccinated.
“We have to be practical and I worry a little bit that we will basically stay with this idea that we’ve had all along: Do this or else,” Osterholm said. “And so I hope that the CDC guidance acknowledges that people are not going to do the extreme of staying mastered 2022, that’s just not going to happen. So what can we provide them reasonable information that gives them the best case for protecting themselves?”