Americans should continue to wear face masks at this point in the pandemic to protect themselves from coronavirus transmission, said Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Friday.
Hopefully the instructions should change in the coming months, he said.
"We have to be careful this month. I don't think this is the time to start lifting … the simpler remedies like wearing masks, things like that," said the former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration on " Squawk Box ". ""
Gottlieb's comments came in response to a heated exchange between White House Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anthony Fauci, and GOP Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky. In a Senate committee hearing, Paul, an ophthalmologist before going into politics, suggested to Fauci that it was "theater" to advise people to wear masks even after vaccination against Covid.
"You want to get rid of the hesitation about the vaccine? Tell them they can stop wearing their mask after they get the vaccine," Paul said, claiming there was a "practically 0% chance" that someone would was vaccinated, could get Covid-19. The senator had Covid a year ago.
Fauci forcibly pushes back against Paul and says: "I don't agree with you at all." The nation's leading expert on infectious diseases emphasized that the presence of new variants of the virus makes it important to wear face masks in public, including those who have been vaccinated.
Gottlieb, who headed the FDA in the Trump administration from 2017 to 2019, said March was a "difficult" month in the pandemic battle. New infections have declined dramatically since their peak in January, but Gottlieb said the downward trend has started to plateau despite increasing numbers of Americans receiving Covid shots.
"In April and May things may look a lot clearer, and it's obvious we can take our masks off," said Gottlieb, who serves on Pfizer's board of directors and one of the EU-approved two-shot Covid vaccines manufactures US for emergencies. "It's not that obvious right now."
At the same time, Gottlieb agreed with Paul's view that there was something to give Americans to look forward to when they were vaccinated. Paul said to Fauci, "Give them a reward instead of telling them that Nanny State will be there for three more years and that you will have to wear a mask forever."
Gottlieb said he's not sure whether public health experts, including Fauci, are suggesting that people should wear masks for eternity. However, Gottlieb emphasized: "There must be light at the end of the tunnel."
"I think we need to recognize that if the population is vaccinated and the general vulnerability of the population decreases, we can take more risks. This includes going out without masks and doing things in congregation environments," said the ex-FDA- Boss said.
Nearly 23% of the US population have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just over 12% of the population is fully vaccinated. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses for complete protection, while the vaccine recently approved by Johnson & Johnson is a single dose.
A number of states have lifted or eased restrictions on businesses in the pandemic in the past few weeks. Some governors, such as Tate Reeves, governor of Mississippi, and Greg Abbott, governor of Texas, both Republicans, have also given up their state's mask mandates.
While Gottlieb previously said that mask requirements should be the final measure to mitigate Covid, the doctor said he sees a scenario in the not-too-distant future where Americans won't need them in public.
"If infection rates get low this summer, which I believe, and we have 50% or 60% of the adult population fully vaccinated, we won't be wearing masks on the beach on July 4th. We won't." probably wearing masks indoors when we don't want to, "said Gottlieb.
As the fall and winter roll around bringing in colder weather, coronavirus cases could increase, Gottlieb said, adding that "we may get some damage control back on track." However, he said, "I think a lot of people will still be wearing masks, probably me too, when I travel this winter."