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Virus Expert Just Issued "Tragic" Warning

"We're still tragically in this fight," said Gottlieb.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

With many governors lifting mask mandates in schools, and COVID cases going down after the worst of the Omicron surge (in some states, not all yet), it's undeniably tempting to think the pandemic is over and we can all "move on." Not so fast, says Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb. You're not fully safe right at this moment. Why not, and how can you protect yourself? Read on to hear the 5 thoughts he shared yesterday with Margaret Brennan on Face the Nation—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Virus Expert Warned: "We're Still Tragically in This Fight"

Nurse wearing a facemask while checking on a patient at the hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Where are we at in this pandemic? "We're still tragically in this fight," said Gottlieb. "When you look across the country right now, you see the cases declining very quickly, all across the country in almost every state. If you look week over week, cases have declined sharply. So we're a good part of the way through this Omicron wave. If you look at places like New York, New Jersey, Maryland, cases are down to about 20 to 30 cases per hundred thousand people per day, which is a low level. That's about where we were before the Delta surge. Other parts of the country are still at about a hundred cases per a hundred thousand people per day, 140. You look at states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky right now, Oklahoma. They're about at that level. So some parts of the country still are in the thick of the Omicron wave—coming down, but still in the thick of it. Other parts like New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Boston, if you look at some of the leading have come way down. And I think that they're through the worst of this particular wave of infection."

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Virus Expert Said "We're Not Close to the End Right Now"

Infected patient in quarantine lying in bed in hospital, coronavirus concept.

Some governors are pushing to move from a pandemic stage to an endemic stage. "At 2,400 deaths a day—that doesn't feel like we're close to the end," said Brennan. "No, it doesn't feel like that," said Gottlieb. "And we're not close to the end right now, depending on how you measure that. I think that this is gonna be a long struggle. This is a virus that's gonna be persistent. We're gonna have to continue to take measures to protect vulnerable people. I think what governors are agitating for is some clear guideposts that define what the off ramp is for this. When do we start to roll back this mitigation? And we don't have an agreed upon a set of nomenclature and metrics for measuring that. If you look at CDC right now, many state authorities and public health authorities talk about 10 cases per hundred thousand people per day, being of metric—that rates you being in sort of a low level of spread. If you look at CDC's guidance, they talk about 10 cases per a hundred thousand people per week. So that's 1.44 cases a day. That's a level of spread, a sufficiently low level of spread that we've never been at any point in this pandemic. And that's where CDC defines a low level of spread that would justify removing masks, for example, in schools. And so I think what governors are sensing is that we need to, we need to agree upon a set of metrics when we're gonna start to roll back these mitigation steps,  and give people a light at the end of the tunnel. What is that point when this stuff gets turned off?"

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Virus Expert Said You Should Expect Schools to Start Rolling Back Mask Mandates

Mother puts a safety mask on her son's face.

The governor of New Jersey just announced he would be ending his state's school mask mandate. "Look, I think you're gonna see governors start to do that. I think we're two weeks out. We've seen prevalence come down. Connecticut: Their mask mandate expires on February 15th. I would expect that that's not gonna be renewed. And schools in the state of Connecticut will very quickly lift mask requirements for students. I think you're gonna see the same thing in New York, New Jersey, other states where Omicron has come down, where vaccination rates are especially high. I think you're gonna see states do that. And we're at a point where we can safely contemplate that. That doesn't mean that this isn't gonna continue to spread. But when prevalence is low, you have a lot of people who've been infected who have some level of immunity for a period of time and you have high vaccination rates. We can start to lean forward and take a little bit more risk and try to at least make sure that students in schools have some semblance of normalcy for this spring term. A lot of kids haven't really known a normal school day for two years now. So we want to, we need to try to lean forward aggressively to try to restore that and reclaim it when we can."

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Virus Expert Said This About Vaccines for Kids Under 5

Pediatric doctor is vaccinating the child.

"The decision's ultimately gonna reside with FDA," said Gottlieb about vaccines for kids under 5. "The briefing documents on the data that the FDA is gonna review are gonna be out this Friday. The agency, uh, is gonna have an advisory committee of public advisory committee on February 15th. After that, I would expect that they'll make a decision on a vaccine for children age just six months to four years old. And they have a lot more data to evaluate. …. I think that they'll see that the data package has evolved from when they first looked at it back in December. And what's happened over that intervening time is Omicron—11.4 million children have been infected through this pandemic, 3.5 million of them were infected in just the month of January. And that was Omicron. And there were 1.6 million kids under the age of five infected over the course of the pandemic. So we now have a lot of experience of the kids in that trial who were vaccinated, who made it through the Omicron wave and will be able to evaluate how protective that vaccine was."

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How to Stay Safe Out There

A mid adult woman protects herself by placing an N95 face mask over her nose and mouth.

Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Alek Korab
Alek Korab is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the ETNT Health channel on Eat This, Not That! Read more about Alek
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