One adviser to presumptive President-elect Joe Biden says a national COVID-19 lockdown is just what America needs.
Dr. Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, was among those named Monday to Biden’s COVID-19 Transition Advisory Board.
Osterholm said that shutting down businesses across the nation for a period of four to six weeks — while having the government underwrite all lost wages — would check the spread of the disease while not taking the economy off the rails, according to CNBC.
“We could pay for a package right now to cover all of the wages, lost wages for individual workers, for losses to small companies, to medium-sized companies or city, state, county governments. We could do all of that,” he said. “If we did that, then we could lock down for four to six weeks.”
Osterholm claimed that such a step would succeed “like they did in New Zealand and Australia.”
“We could really watch ourselves cruising into the vaccine availability in the first and second quarter of next year while bringing back the economy long before that,” he said.
One of Biden's new coronavirus task force doctors floating the idea of a 4-6 week lockdown:
“We could pay for a package right now to cover all of the lost wages for individual workers … if we did that, then we could lockdown for 4 to 6 weeks."pic.twitter.com/zNmuQvPpIJ
— Zack Guzman (@zGuz) November 11, 2020
Osterholm in August co-authored an Op-Ed in The New York Times with Neel Kashkari in which they said the problem with America’s past lockdowns was that they were neither long enough nor strict enough.
“To successfully drive down our case rate to less than one per 100,000 people per day, we should mandate sheltering in place for everyone but the truly essential workers,” Osterholm and Kashkari wrote. “By that, we mean people must stay at home and leave only for essential reasons: food shopping and visits to doctors and pharmacies while wearing masks and washing hands frequently.
“According to the Economic Policy Institute, 39 percent of workers in the United States are in essential categories.
“The problem with the March-to-May lockdown was that it was not uniformly stringent across the country. For example, Minnesota deemed 78 percent of its workers essential. To be effective, the lockdown has to be as comprehensive and strict as possible.”
Osterholm and Kashkari said that if the policy they proposed were adopted in August, normal life could return by November.
The Op-Ed also called for a vast federal spending spree.
“This pandemic is deeply unfair. Millions of low-wage, front-line service workers have lost their jobs or been put in harm’s way, while most higher-wage, white-collar workers have been spared. But it is even more unfair than that; those of us who’ve kept our jobs are actually saving more money because we aren’t going out to restaurants or movies, or on vacations,” they wrote. “Because we are saving more, we have the resources to support those who have been laid off.”
Osterholm’s zeal for a strict lockdown is not matched by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Thursday and was asked by host Robin Roberts whether such measures are needed now.
“We would like to stay away from that, Robin, because there’s no appetite for locking down the American public. I believe we can do it without a lockdown,” Fauci said.
“You don’t necessarily have to shut everything down. … The best opposite strategy to locking down is to intensify the public health measures short of locking down. So if you can do that well, you don’t have to take that step that people are trying to avoid, which has so many implications both psychologically and economically.”
He added, “Help is really on the way. … Vaccines are going to have a major positive impact.”
But Osterholm said the worst is yet to come.
“What America has to understand is that we are about to enter COVID hell,” he said Monday on CNBC. “It is happening.”
“We have not even come close to the peak and, as such, our hospitals are now being overrun,” Osterholm said. “The next three to four months are going to be, by far, the darkest of the pandemic.”
Osterholm is not the only Biden adviser talking coronavirus gloom and doom.
In an interview with MarketWatch, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, an architect of the Affordable Care Act and a former special adviser for health policy in the Obama White House who is also on Biden’s Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board, said a full reopening of the U.S. is not likely before late next year.
“It’ll be closer to November, closer toward the end” of 2021, he said, asserting that the opening would be keyed to the speed at which Americans are vaccinated.
“But it’ll probably be enough to begin opening colleges and universities [and] schools, again depending on how we distribute this thing and how effective we can be on that,” Emanuel said.