Two of President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus advisors pushed back Friday on the idea of a national lockdown to suppress the coronavirus pandemic.
“As a group, really the consensus is that we need a more nuanced approach,” Dr. Celine Gounder, who sits on the panel and is an infectious disease specialist at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” adding that it was “not the opinion” of the group to institute such widespread restrictions across the U.S. “We can be much more targeted geographically. We can also be more targeted in terms of what we close.”
Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former U.S. surgeon general tapped to help lead the group, said national lockdowns were recommended in the spring when scientists didn’t know as much about how the disease spreads and people were less fatigued from the pandemic.
“We’re not in a place where we’re saying, ‘Shut the whole country down,”‘ Murthy said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” advocating for a more targeted approach. “If we don’t do that, what you’re going to find is that people will become even more fatigued, schools won’t be open to children and the economy will be hit harder.”
Their comments come after another Covid-19 advisor to Biden, Dr. Michael Osterholm, who serves as director of the Center of Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told Yahoo Finance in an interview Wednesday that shuttering businesses for four to six weeks while paying people for lost wages could help suppress cases and hospitalizations to a manageable level.
Osterholm later clarified his comments in an interview with NBC News, saying, “It was not a recommendation. I have never made this recommendation to Biden’s group. We’ve never talked about it.”
A Biden transition official told NBC News that a shutdown “is not in line with the president-elect’s thinking.”
Rather than adopting a comprehensive lockdown approach, Gounder told CNBC that state officials should focus on implementing tighter restrictions in regions of the country where there’s a high risk for the virus to spread, such as restaurants, bars and gyms, and aim to keep their schools open for students.
“I think of this as a dimmer switch, not an on-and-off light switch,” she said. “I think we need to close only those things that really are contributing to the spread, and really try to … as much as possible remain open, like schools, if they’re not contributing to the spread.”
A handful of states and cities have started to implement tighter restrictions, including curfews, mask requirements and limits on group gatherings, ahead of the winter as scientists warn that the U.S. is entering what will likely be the “darkest days of the pandemic.”
The U.S. has reported three consecutive days of record-breaking daily new Covid-19 cases, reaching a weekly average of 131,445 cases a day, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Many infectious disease experts, including White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, have tried to distance themselves from the term “lockdown,” suggesting the U.S. doesn’t have to resort to the widespread stay-at-home orders it adopted in the spring when the coronavirus first hit U.S. shores.
When it comes to lockdowns, Biden has previously said he would listen to suggestions from scientists such as Fauci. The Biden-Harris Covid-19 plan, however, calls for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide communities with evidence-based guidance on when to close some businesses or schools depending on the degree of viral spread.
“I don’t think a full lockdown is necessary nor would it be useful,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told CNBC’s “The News with Shepard Smith” on Thursday evening, saying he doesn’t agree with Osterholm’s call for a full lockdown.
It would be beneficial to curtail some activities to wrestle coronavirus outbreaks, Jha said. Indoor dining at restaurants, gyms and casinos has become “a real problem,” though other activities, especially if they’re outside and people are wearing masks, can continue, he said.
“A full lockdown is not what I would recommend at all,” Jha said.