Ex-FDA head warns northern US may see COVID spike as schools reopen
9th August 2021

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Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb warned that Northern US states could see COVID-19 cases rise as students return to the classroom.

Gottlieb said the states may not have outbreaks that rival Southern hotspots such as Florida, but they are still vulnerable to climbing case numbers.

“I think the Northern states are more impervious to the kind of spread we saw in the South, but they’re not completely impervious,” Gottlieb said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

“They have higher vaccination rates, there’s been more prior infection. But there’s still people who are vulnerable in those states.”

Gottlieb said the return to school may drive case numbers up everywhere.

“The challenge right now is that the infection is going to start to collide with the opening of school. And we have seen that the schools can become sources of community transmission when you’re dealing with more transmissible strains,” he said, referring to the dangerous variants, B.1.1.7 and Delta, that first emerged in the United Kingdom and India, respectively.

“We saw that with B.1.1.7 in states like Michigan and Massachusetts,” he said. “And Delta is far more transmissible than B.1.1.7. So that creates a lot of risk that the spread in the Northern states is going to start to collide with the opening of school.”

Gottlieb said schools should welcome back students with a “degree of caution” and keep COVID-19 rules in place as the Delta variant continues to spread in communities.

“I wouldn’t be withdrawing these things … before the school year gets under way, given the fact that we’re dealing with a strain that we don’t fully understand,” he said.

“This strain is clearly more transmissible. It’s going to be harder to control in a school setting, and it may be more pathogenic.”

He argued that it would be unsafe to allow students to return without mask mandates.

“I can’t think of a business right now that would put 30 unvaccinated people in a confined space without masks and keep them there for the whole day. No business would do that responsibly,” he said.

“And yet that’s what we’re going to be doing in some schools. So I think we need to enter the school year with a degree of humility and prudence.”

National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins said Sunday that the highest number of children — 1,450 — were currently hospitalized with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Experts have said it’s unclear whether the Delta strain causes more severe illness or if more kids are being exposed to more disease than at other points of the pandemic, but they have encouraged those in hotspots to wear masks in public to limit the spread.

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