▶ Watch Video: Gottlieb says U.S. likely “much further in this epidemic than we’re picking up

Washington — Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said Sunday he thinks the U.S. is further into the COVID-19 epidemic driven by the Delta variant than Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) models are picking up. He said that could mean “hopefully we’re going to turn a corner” in the next two to three weeks. 

“We’re not doing a lot of testing. More of the testing that we are doing is antigen tests that are being done at home and not getting reported,” Gottlieb said. “So, I think we’re much further into this epidemic than we’re picking up and hopefully further through this epidemic.” 

According to the CDC’s latest model, the agency predicts that over the next three weeks, there may be between 90,000 and 800,000 new cases — a huge range. Showing an even larger disparity, the CDC estimates that for the week ending August 14, there will be from an average of 10,000 infections a day to more than 100,000. Gottlieb believes this range is an indication that the agency doesn’t have a good sense of where the outbreak is headed.    

“I believe that there is more virus than we’re picking up right now,” Gottlieb said. “There’s probably a lot of people with mild to subclinical infection since more of the infection is happening in a younger population that’s less likely to become very symptomatic.” 

Gottlieb said that it appears the U.S. is about three or four weeks behind the United Kingdom, and using that country as a model, the U.S. could be turning a corner soon. 

“If you look at the U.K., they do in the last seven days appear to be turning a corner. You’re starting to see a downward trajectory on the cases. Now, it’s unclear whether that’s going to be sustained,” Gottlieb added. 

Gottlieb said the CDC is only tracking breakthrough infections when people are hospitalized, but medical professionals “need to understand whether or not vaccinated people are developing subclinical and mild infections and whether or not they can spread the virus, because that’s going to inform the kinds of decisions that they make.”

“It’s a question I get a lot from vaccinating individuals is whether or not they can spread the infection,” Gottlieb said. “Again, we know that they were far less likely to spread the infection with the other variants. We don’t know a lot about this Delta. This is a question that can be answered, and CDC should be looking at this.” 

Despite that the Delta variant is more transmissible than previous variants, Gottlieb said the “characteristics of the virus haven’t changed as far as we know.”

“So it’s not more airborne,” Gottlieb said. “It’s not more likely to be permeable through a mask. So a mask can still be helpful. I think, though, if you’re going to consider wearing a mask, the quality of the masks does matter. So if you can get your hands on a KN95 mask or an N95 mask, that’s going to afford you a lot more protection.”