Michael Osterholm, a former member of President Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board, wasn’t buying what the White House was trying to sell earlier this month that the U.S. may see up to 100 million coronavirus cases this fall and winter — a pitch that had many thinking about the midterm elections and the vast powers that could be exerted there by authorities.
Citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now only recommending masks on public transit rather than mandating it, Osterhold told CNN analyst Peter Bergen last week that the Biden administration’s prognosticating was “a whiplash moment.”
“There seems to be a big disconnect between the White House recently predicting up to 100 million cases in the fall and earlier this month the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only making a recommendation about wearing masks on public transportation,” Bergen said in the interview.
“Yes, I think this has been kind of a whiplash moment for the public on Covid-19. You also had the statement made recently saying that we are on the downside of the pandemic,” Osterholm replied.
He was referencing Fauci’s remark during an April interview with PBS NewsHour, when the infectious disease expert said, “We are certainly right now in this country out of the pandemic phase.”
Fauci would later walk that statement back, telling NPR, “I want to clarify one thing. I probably should have said the acute component of the pandemic phase, and I understand how that can lead to some misinterpretation.”
“His comment was obviously interpreted by most to mean that the pandemic was over. I realize that he was referring to the fact that we’re out of the big peak of cases right now, which is true,” Osterholm said.
“On the other hand, I’ve seen no data which supports the possibility of a fall or winter surge in the U.S. resulting in 100 million cases,” he added. “No one should make that kind of statement without providing the assumptions behind that number.”
While anything is possible, Osterholm said that numbers on that scale are “more likely” to happen if a new, more infectious variant showed up that could evade “existing immune protection.”
“Any modeling that looks beyond 30 days out is largely based on pixie dust,” he proclaimed. “I worry that the White House has gotten way ahead of their skis on this one.”
Which is not to say that he didn’t support the Biden administration’s efforts to secure additional funding to fight the coronavirus.
Bergen asked if last month’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, which President Biden attended, was an accident waiting to happen, after noting that while he was not invited he would not have gone.
“Oh, absolutely, it was. And it’s not just the Correspondents’ Dinner. It’s all the parties around it,” Osterholm replied.
There were a number of positive tests reported by members of the media in attendance that night, with very few wearing masks. George Cheeks, the president and chief executive of CBS, who was sitting right next to Biden, was among those who tested positive.
The irony being that panicked, fully masked Washington Post journalist Jada Yuan contracted the virus after tweeting the night of the dinner: “This room is like a horror film. No exits. Literally getting trapped between tables. Fear of breathing near people but people are everywhere. Creeping sense that you’re the only one who know this is insane.”
Osterholm was not very optimistic when asked how well-positioned the country is for the next pandemic.
“We’re not. We’ve suffered numerous setbacks, and our society’s trust in public health is probably at its lowest level since my career began 47 years ago,” he said, adding, “Trust in the CDC as an organization has eroded significantly during this pandemic.”
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