Gottlieb versus Fauci: Scientists at odds over governors reopening states during the pandemic

Dr. Scott Gottlieb and Dr. Anthony Fauci both gave remarks to the media on Friday. It is notable that both men who have been featured prominently throughout the pandemic for their scientific and medical advice are at odds now on reopening the country. For those keeping score at home, Gottlieb advises that the governors who are opening up their states are doing the right thing while Fauci is already sounding doom and gloom warnings of a fourth spike in coronavirus cases.

Like clockwork, Fauci is doing his usual thing – a holiday is approaching and he is doing what he can to discourage families and friends from socializing. During a White House briefing on the coronavirus on Friday, Fauci warned that despite the number of vaccinations being administered throughout the United States, we may soon be hit with a fourth spike of COVID-19 cases. Most states are showing a drop in hospitalizations and rate of positivity, which is why governors are relaxing strict lockdown measures. In other words, governors are following the science which the Party of Science has regularly stated is what must be done. Fauci wants to get out in front of the Easter holiday.

The recent plateau in cases from record-high post-holiday rates is actually a sign that Americans should mask up and brace for another potential boom in infections, Fauci said while citing past coronavirus data trends at a White House press briefing.

“We’ve just now recently experienced the worst surge,” Fauci said. “The issue is that we are starting to plateau. That plateau is about 60,000 to 70,000 cases a day. When you have that much viral activity in a plateau, it almost invariably means that you are at risk of another spike.

“Many countries in Europe have seen just that — over the past week, an increase in cases by 9 percent, something we desperately want to avoid,” he added.

By contrast, when coronavirus cases leveled off after the first wave of infections last spring, the national daily caseload was roughly a third of what it is today, he said.

“Many of us will recall very, very vividly — in the end of the winter and the beginning of the spring — we had a surge that was dominated by the New York metropolitan area. After the surge, what we came down to was a baseline of about 20,000 cases per day. That is a very high baseline, relatively speaking,” he said.

It is understandable that Fauci doesn’t want to encourage Americans to let our guard down in keeping ourselves and our loved ones as safe as possible against the coronavirus. As we remember, last Easter was the first traditional holiday celebrated by families and friends that was canceled due to lockdowns. It sure sounds like Fauci would like to continue the same this year. Even with the White House’s plan to get all Americans vaccinated by May, Fauci advises that mitigation measures continue. Those measures include wearing face masks, social distancing, and hand washing – the same basic measures we’ve been told for over a year. At first, it was to flatten the curve, now it seems the goalposts are shifting again with Fauci. Perhaps he expects us to live like we are now indefinitely.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb is more a man of common sense. As Fauci discourages governors from reopening their states, Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, says governors are doing the right thing. He’d like to see mask mandates remain in place but otherwise, it is the right thing to do to ease restrictions on businesses. In comparing the actions of the governors of Texas and Mississippi to the action taken by Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, he said Lamont has the right idea. Unlike the governors of Texas and Mississippi, Lamont did not lift the face mask mandate in Connecticut. Gottlieb, by the way, lives in Connecticut and served on a pandemic advisory team for Lamont. Connecticut isn’t 100% open now, as Texas is, for example, there are still some capacity limits in effect for restaurants and other public venues.

“I think it’s the kind of thing we need to be doing around the country, is at least providing a map of where we’re heading if the situation continues to improve without taking our foot off the brake all at once,” said Gottlieb, who led the FDA in the Trump administration from 2017 to 2019.

Gottlieb — a member of Pfizer’s board, which makes a Covid vaccine — said the emerging virus strains are important to watch for states that plan to ease restrictions. The B117 variant, first discovered in the U.K., is growing in Connecticut, Gottlieb said. “If the situation changes, I’m sure they’ll reassess it.”

Gottlieb said he personally would continue avoiding eating indoors, a stance he has maintained during the pandemic. “I’m going to be going out to restaurants I’m sure over the course of March, but I’m going to be eating outside,” Gottlieb said. “It just doesn’t seem like a risk worth taking to me.”

The success of vaccination programs makes a difference, according to Gottlieb.

“Connecticut has done a lot better than most states in getting vaccines into their older population,” Gottlieb added. “They’ve done an age-based approach. They’ve been very successful in getting 65 and above vaccinated, so as the overall vulnerability of the population declines, it allows you to lean forward a little bit.” Age is one of the biggest risk factors for developing severe Covid and possibly dying.

“If we have 1,000 infections now in the state, that’s a lot different than 1,000 infections 10 months ago when none of the vulnerable residents of the state were vaccinated,” Gottlieb said. “I think you need to try to provide a pathway that allows people to gradually get back to normal activity.”

At the same time, Gottlieb said the overall risk dynamics for Covid have changed considerably due to the vaccine rollout.

I think Gottlieb is where a lot of us are now. Seeing the numbers of vaccinations on the rise and the hope of everyone who wants a vaccination to get one by the end of May indicates that loosening up lockdown restrictions is the thing to do. We have to be able to get back to a more normal way of life at some point after living like prisoners in our own homes for a year. We can remain vigilant. Gottlieb’s advice makes more sense than continuing to live in fear and fret about seeing family and friends during a holiday season.