Gottlieb: Coronavirus is About to Get Ugly in New York, and Some Scenes Will Be 'Shocking'

Posted: Mar 23, 2020 10:01 AM

One of the most disquieting elements of being an average person living through the Coronavirus crisis is the deep and nagging sense of insecurity about whom to trust and what to believe.  A post that went viral over the weekend downplaying the risk of the disease, and effectively calling for the reopening of society (disclosure: I know the author and consider him a smart person with good intentions) elicited furious pushback from a number of experts, to the point that Medium scrubbed it from its platform -- prompting concerns about censorship and narrative control.  

Having read the piece before it was taken down, my general thought was that many of the data-driven points (the accuracy of which have been hotly disputed in certain cases) it made were interesting and perhaps some of its recommendations should be considered when 'phase two' of mitigation arrives -- after we take the current measures very seriously and 'flatten the curve.'  And while I absolutely agree with profound concerns about the economic devastation that extreme distancing could inflict if the present status quo drags on for much longer, other experts are warning that without significantly expanding and extending lockdowns across the country, the scourge will grow 'exponentially' and many will die.  This is the other end of the spectrum:

I am an MIT-trained physicist and complexity scientist who studies pandemics. I have warned about global pandemics due to increasing travel for 15 years. I recommended community based monitoring of symptoms to stop Ebola in West Africa in 2014, and it worked. The fastest and even the only way to contain COVID-19 in the United States is a five-week national lockdown. Closing schools, bars and movie theaters are good measures, but not enough. Our relaxed approach to social distancing is insufficient to stop the exponential growth of COVID-19. Until Americans consistently adopt strong social distancing recommendations — a lockdown — the disease will continue to spread exponentially.

Without this draconian action, "millions of lives" could be lost, the author argues, after problematically citing...China as an example of how the virus can be brought under control.  As I have done throughout this ordeal, I've been paying attention to credible experts who I believe to be realistic, candid, and non-hysterical.  Doctors Anthony Fauci and Scott Gottlieb fit the bill.  So when I see cause for optimism or pessimism from these figures, I sit up and pay attention.  Let's start with some pessimism:

Some cities, especially New York, are on scary trajectories.  This does not seem like a moment to step away from the federal government's '15 days' guidance.  Nevertheless, Gottlieb also recognizes that people need to be reassured that this crisis footing will expire, and we will get back to at least quasi-normalcy.  To that end, he writes, "people want to understand when current lockdowns and restrictions will lift, and normal life starts to return...There's an end to this. We need to define it. Define the stages of return to better times and how we’ll get there." He continues, "It’s not just a question of ending but adapting. Certain things will change. There isn’t an on/off switch that’ll flip one day. We'll unwind some measures and adopt others. We'll secure a better toolbox to deal with this threat."  What might that look like?  More:

The full thread is here, and it seems characteristically sensible to me.  But I couldn't help but notice that he warns of "hard months" -- plural -- ahead.  Relatedly, here's a Boston Globe piece that quotes epidemiologists grappling with the "when will this be over?" question.  Bottom line?  They need more data before solid projections can be made.  Wait and see, with much more testing needed.  Not exactly satisfying, but that's the reality.  And because these has been a pretty rough post, I'll leave you with these two videos:

UPDATE  - Back to a non-cheery note:

“I want America to understand this week, it’s going to get bad,” [Surgeon General] Adams said in an interview on the 'TODAY' Show. The disease is spreading, he said, because many people — especially young people — are not abiding by guidance to stay at home and practice social distancing. “Right now, there are not enough people out there who are taking this seriously,” he said.