Dr Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Thursday that the current spike in Covid infections due to the highly contagious delta variant may be over sooner than many experts believe.
However, the former FDA chief urged Americans to take precautions in the meantime as the delta, first found in India, is establishing itself as the dominant variant in the United States.
“I think the bottom line is that we’re going to see continued growth, at least over the next three to four weeks. There’s going to be a peak around the end of August, beginning of September,” Gottlieb said on “Squawk Box” . “I just happen to think we’re further along in this delta wave than we measure, so this might be over sooner than we think. But we don’t really know because we don’t do a lot of either. testing now. “
There could be another small increase in infection rates when schools reopen in the fall and become “vectors of transmission” as they did with variant B.1.1.7, first discovered in Britain and now called alpha, said Gottlieb, who led the Food and Drug Administration from 2017 to 2019 under President Donald Trump.
Gottlieb also warned that simply wearing masks, especially cloth masks, may not be enough to prevent delta variant Covid infections in classrooms. He advised schools to create pods, space children in the classroom, avoid group meals and suspend some large activities, as well as improve filtration and air quality levels.
“There could be other things you are doing that actually reduce the risk more than masks do in a much more contagious variant where we know it’s going to spread even with masks on,” he said. said Gottlieb. “If we’re going to tell people to wear masks, I think we need to start educating people better about the quality of the masks and the differences in reduction and risk that you get with different types of masks. “
For businesses looking to bring people back to their offices, Gottlieb said October might be a more “cautious” time than September.
Gottlieb, who sits on the board of directors of vaccine maker Covid Pfizer, said the critical question right now is to what extent vaccinated people are likely to transmit the virus if infected. He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should collect this data because the current delta variant is likely to be the newest and most permanent form of coronavirus in the future.
“When you are dealing with a new variant where the virus levels you reach at the start of your infection are a thousand times higher than the original strain, it is possible that you are shedding more virus and being more contagious,” did he declare.
Local authorities across the country are advising and reimposing indoor mask warrants as the highly transmissible delta variant is once again increasing Covid cases and deaths in the United States, especially in largely unvaccinated communities.
Nearly 162 million people in the United States are fully vaccinated – nearly 49% of the nation’s population – even as the rate of vaccines administered daily has seen a sharp decline in recent months, according to a CDC tracker.
The CDC relaxed its Covid mask guidelines for fully vaccinated people on May 13.
Since delta has taken a stronger hold, however, health experts are warning people to use masks again and follow public health measures. White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr Anthony Fauci told CNBC on Wednesday that even fully vaccinated people might consider wearing masks indoors as a protective measure against the delta variant.
Last week, Gottlieb told CNBC he believed the United States “vastly underestimates” the number of Covid delta infections, especially among vaccinated people with mild symptoms, making it more difficult to understand if the variant causes higher than expected hospitalization and death rates.
“The endgame here was always going to be a final wave of infection,” Gottlieb told CNBC on Thursday. “We had predicted that this summer would be relatively calm and that we would have a wave of infections in the fall with B.1.1.7, and that would kind of be the last wave of the pandemic phase of this virus and we would enter a more endemic phase where this virus just becomes a reality and it circulates at a certain level. “
But unlike early last year, he added, “We have therapies and vaccines to deal with it, we’re better at treating it and it’s kind of like a second flu.”
Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a contributor to CNBC and serves on the boards of directors of Pfizer, genetic testing startup Tempus, health technology company Aetion, and biotech company Illumina. He is also co-chair of the Healthy Sail Panel of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean.