WASHINGTON — America does not need another large-scale shutdown to contain the surging coronavirus pandemic, the top official coordinating the Trump administration’s COVID-19 testing said on Sunday.
Adm. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, told NBC News’ “Meet the Press” that the nation could “achieve the same results” as a broad shutdown and dramatically lower the coronavirus’ transmission rate with a few “simple” and important policy changes and behavioral modifications.
“I think we need to be very selective. Sure, if we shut everything down again, that would do it, but we don’t need to. But remember, there’s a tremendous health cost to shutting down — mental, emotional, substance use, but also no cancer screenings, no vaccines, all those other things,” he said.
“So let’s do what we know really works. Like I said, avoid bars because they really spread, restaurant capacity down 50 percent, hand hygiene and please wear a mask in public, that’s really, really, really important. We’ve got to have 90 or 95 percent adherence to that and we can achieve the same results.”
There have been almost 3.3 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. as of Sunday and more than 135,000 deaths attributed to the coronavirus, according to an NBC News analysis. On Friday, the United States reported more than 70,000 new daily cases, a record high.
Only four states have seen a decrease in cases over the last two weeks, according to the NBC analysis, while 28 states and territories have seen a two-week case increase of at least 50 percent.
The new surges have hit the Sun Belt particularly hard, with many hospitals in areas like Houston stretched near or to capacity trying to treat new cases.
Even so, Giroir stressed that the country is better off than it was at the beginning of the pandemic, arguing that “we’re definitely not losing the battle but we are certainly in the midst of it” and that we have “a lot more tools in our toolbox right now to combat this.”
He said that while some individual hospitals may have shortages of protective equipment, about three-quarters have at least a 15-day supply of personal protective equipment and only 2 percent have under three days in supply. He also noted the surge in testing capacity that’s quadrupled since April, as well as advances in treatments.
“We know what to do with this, but we have to have people on board doing it. And if you do get sick, the good news is, we know how to treat you better on the ventilator, we have dexamethasone, remdesivir, the mortality rate is going very, very much down,” he said.
“I’m not trying to paint a rosy picture, but we are definitely in a better spot than we were in March and April, but we have to take this incredibly seriously.”