Dr. Michael Osterholm, Regent Professor, McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair of Public Health and Director of the Center for Research and Policy on Infectious Diseases at the University of Minnesota, announced advances on COVID-19 testing in Minnesota at St. Paul, MN.
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Closing businesses and paying for lost wages for four to six weeks could help keep the coronavirus pandemic in check and boost the economy until a vaccine is approved and distributed, said Dr. Michael Osterholm, a coronavirus advisor to President-elect Joe Biden.
Osterholm, who serves as director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said earlier this week that the country was headed for "Covid Hell". Cases are on the rise as more people are fed up with wearing masks, social distancing and suffering from what is known as "pandemic fatigue," he said on Wednesday. Colder weather also drives people indoors, where the virus can spread more easily.
A nationwide lockdown would keep new cases and hospitalizations down to manageable levels while the world waits for a vaccine, he told Yahoo Finance on Wednesday.
"We could now pay for a package to cover all wages, lost wages for individual workers for losses to small businesses to medium-sized businesses or city, state and county governments. We could do all of that," he said. "If we did that, we could lock up for four to six weeks."
He was referring to an August comment he had written with the President of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve, Neel Kashkari, in which the two advocated more restrictive and uniform bans across the country.
"The problem with the March-May lockdown was that it was not consistently strict across the country. For example, Minnesota considered 78 percent of its workforce essential," they wrote in the New York Times. "To be effective, the lockdown must be as comprehensive and strict as possible."
On Wednesday, Osterholm said such a lockdown would help the country get the virus under control "as they did in New Zealand and Australia". Epidemiologists have repeatedly pointed to New Zealand, Australia and other parts of Asia for cutting the number of new cases to below 10 as an example of how to contain the virus.
"We really saw how we moved towards vaccine availability in the first and second quarters of next year while getting the economy going well well in advance," he said on Wednesday.
On the current path, Osterholm said the US is heading for dark days before a vaccine becomes available. He said health systems across the country are already overwhelmed in places like El Paso, Texas, where local officials have already closed stores and the federal government is sending resources to deal with a surge in Covid-19 deaths.
Osterholm said the country needed leadership. The president-elect is up to the task of taking this leadership, Osterholm said, adding that it could also come from local and state officials or from the medical community. He referred to the Fireside Chats, which were broadcast on the radio during the tenure of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in which Roosevelt addressed the country on topics from the Great Depression to World War II.
"People don't want to hear that El Paso is not an isolated incident. El Paso is becoming the norm in many cases," he said. "I think the message is how we can get through this. We need FDR moments now. We need fireside chats. We need someone to tell America, 'This the hell is going to happen.'"