Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Friday that he believes the coronavirus is significantly more widespread in the United States than official case numbers reflect as the highly contagious Delta variant is sweeping the nation.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we are currently infecting by and large up to a million people a day and we are ingesting maybe a tenth or less than a tenth of that,” the former said the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration in one Interview with “Squawk Box”. Gottlieb is now on the board of directors of the Covid vaccine manufacturer Pfizer.
The current seven-day average of new daily coronavirus cases in the US is around 67,000, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. That’s 53% more than a week ago as the country grapples with a surge in new infections, mainly caused by deltas first discovered in India and now the predominant variety in the US
“What it reflects is a reality where you have a highly communicable variant that is currently widespread in the US and is mainly spreading in a population that is either vaccinated and developing mild or no symptoms, or is in one younger population, who are also less likely to develop symptoms because they are younger and healthier, “said Gottlieb when asked by Andrew Ross Sorkin, co-host of the” Squawk Box, “how the doctor commented on his” amazing “estimate of 1 Million new infections per day.
“Most of the spread and most of the people who show up at the hospital are younger people. If the infection occurs there, there must be a lot more infections under the little counter that shows up in the hospital, ”added Gottlieb, who headed the FDA in the Trump administration from 2017 to 2019. He has become a closely watched voice during the pandemic who routinely appears on CNBC and other media to offer his analysis of the health crisis.
The highest 7-day average of new Covid cases registered in the US was around 251,000 on January 8, according to CNBC analysis. The number of cases had dropped dramatically in the spring as the country’s vaccination campaign gained momentum.
But in the past few weeks as the U.S. cases accelerated again, Gottlieb said large numbers of coronavirus infections were likely not to be reported, in part because the testing landscape is now different from previous stages of the pandemic. In the early days, Gottlieb suggested that the actual case numbers were much higher than the official numbers due to scarce testing resources.
Well, he said it was a different situation where the discrepancy between the number of cases and the actual number of infections is due to people who remain asymptomatic or who only develop mild symptoms who are not tested. Additionally, Gottlieb previously told CNBC staff that they can now do tests at home and these results are unlikely to end up with health officials and then show up in official case numbers.
On Friday, Gottlieb reiterated his view that the US is much further into the tide of delta-driven infections than others believe. “This delta wave will likely pass sometime in September,” he predicted.
Gottlieb’s comments on Friday came after the Washington Post and other media outlets, including CNBC, reported a leaked document from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the risks of the Delta variant.
The health agency document, authenticated by the U.S. agency to CNBC, stated that the Delta variant is as communicable as chickenpox, and suggested that vaccinated people may be just as easily able to pass the strain on to others as unvaccinated people.
The studies and data contained in the document were seen as key drivers in the CDC’s reversal to masks earlier this week. The agency now recommends that all people, including those who have been vaccinated, wear face covers in rooms with high transmission.
– CNBC’s Nate Rattner contributed to this report.
Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC employee and a member of the board of directors of Pfizer, genetic testing startup Tempus, health technology company Aetion Inc., and biotechnology company Illumina. He is also co-chair of the Healthy Sail Panel of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean.