Dr. Scott Gottlieb warned Monday that the United States was "at a tipping point" in its coronavirus pandemic as the nation saw an all-time high in Covid-19 cases in recent days.
New U.S. cases hit a daily record of 83,757 on Friday and nearly hit that amount on Saturday. More than a dozen states hit hospital average record hospitalizations for virus on Friday.
"We will probably experience a very dense epidemic. I think we are currently on the cusp of an exponential spread in parts of the country," said Gottlieb on Monday in the "Squawk Box" of CNBC.
Public health experts have been warning for months that Covid is likely to rise in the fall and winter as the colder weather forces more people indoors, where the virus can be more easily transmitted.
At this point, Gottlieb claimed that the country still had the ability to prevent large-scale re-implementation of lockdowns through tailored restrictions in areas of significant proliferation. However, the former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration warned that the window is closing.
"I think we are currently at a tipping point where, if we take some aggressive, targeted steps now, we could possibly prevent the worst," said Gottlieb, who headed the regulator from May 2017 to April 2019 in the Trump administration.
Gottlieb has said many times that states in the US are unlikely to revert to widespread stay-at-home orders, in part because better testing makes it easier to determine where hot-spot areas are and how to Part because the public is willing to accept this is low.
"I know that people are exhausted. It was very difficult for families and individuals, especially for companies, but we really have two or three months of the acute phase of this pandemic ahead of us," Gottlieb said on Monday. He called it likely the "worst part" of a health crisis that saw the deaths of more than 225,000 Americans, according to Johns Hopkins University.
"We have to try to unite and see what we can do to control the spread so that our health systems don't become overwhelmed. Because once they do, once we hit that breaking point, the policies we take. " The need to take action will unfortunately be more aggressive than if we had done some things in advance, "he said.
On Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said the US would "not control the pandemic" but focus on developing treatments and vaccines that can limit mortality from the virus.
Gottlieb said it was unlikely that a vaccine would be widely available in the coming months, arguing that antibody treatments will not "end" the epidemic.
However, public health strategies can allow the economy to continue functioning while controlling transmission of the virus, Gottlieb said. This includes closing certain high-risk locations or using curfews to close bars "where you know there will be a huge spread," he said.
Strict adherence to mask requirements, especially in indoor places where people congregate, would also be helpful, he said. "And then you appeal to the public to be more careful about what they do. Instead of going shopping three times a week, do it once."
The surge in infections might not feel like the pandemic peak earlier this year, when daily coronavirus deaths eclipsed 2,000 in April, Gottlieb said. He said that's because the spread is more dispersed, rather than major outbreaks being concentrated in some regions like the northeast.
"Every part of the country currently has medium-level infection rather than part of the country actually being inundated with infection," he said, while noting that Midwestern states like Wisconsin and the Dakotas have more intense outbreaks.
"The other states will catch up. They are still in the early stages, but you will see fairly diffuse infections across the country and many places will reach very high levels." Infection, "he added." This is what it looks like, so it's likely going to be a difficult couple of months. "