By Raymond Wolfe
The current easing of COVID-19 restrictions in the U.S. may not last long under the Biden administration, according to epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, a member of the now-dissolved COVID-19 advisory board for the Biden transition.
“As fast as we’re opening restaurants, we’re likely to be closing them in the near term,” Osterholm, former advisor to CEPI, the infectious disease group founded by Bill Gates, said on Meet the Press last week.
“The fact is that the surge that is likely to occur with this new variant from England is going to happen in the next six to 14 weeks,” he added. “And if we see that happen … we are going to see something like we have not seen yet in this country,” Osterholm said.
“You know, we’re all loosening up right now,” but “what we have to do now is also anticipate this and understand that we’re going to have change quickly.”
Osterholm’s call for new lockdowns reflects growing support among top Biden administration advisors for long-term, draconian COVID-19 restrictions.
“Until everybody who wants to get vaccinated can be vaccinated, we really do need to double down on the masking, the social distancing, all of the measures we’ve been talking about for months now,” Cecilia Gounder, another member of Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board, said on Friday.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, now the Chief Medical Advisor to the president, similarly told Fox News yesterday that it was “conceivable that you might be able to pull back a bit on some of the public health measures as we get into the late fall of this year.” He added that “there’s no guarantee of that,” however.
Senior White House COVID-19 Advisor Andy Slavitt even suggested that children, many of them still not back in school, “should circulate less,” comparing them to “mosquitos carrying a tropical disease.”
The renewed push for business closures and heightened social restrictions is somewhat of a reversal for Osterholm, who had walked back his aggressive, months-long advocacy for the lockdown approach late last year.
“Was it appropriate to shut down so many things back then when there was so little, if any transmission? I think you can argue now that probably was not the best use of resources,” he admitted to Bloomberg days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that lockdowns likely contributed to the highest drug death toll ever recorded by the agency.
Lockdowns and other COVID-related restrictions in the U.S. also coincided with a 25.5% rate of suicide ideation among young people, 46.4% decrease in cancer diagnoses, and a projected 13.8 million years of life collectively lost by children due to primary school closures in 2020, among other impacts.
Moreover, the unprecedent devastation may have been entirely in vain, according to a peer-reviewed study by Stanford researchers published three weeks ago in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation.
“If you compare the group of countries that had less restrictive versus more restrictive orders … the very, very restrictive lockdowns did no better than less restrictive policies,” explained Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, one of the study’s authors.
Though Michael Osterholm has claimed that “a complete lockdown, closing almost everything” was “the only thing” that got the recent spread of COVID-19 in Europe under control, the Stanford team found no “significant benefits” from shutting down.
“The resurgence of diseases like tuberculosis, parasitic infections that were under control, malaria, huge numbers of people starving, kids starving around the world as a consequence of the global economic collapse we’re about to face, in large part because of the lockdowns,” Bhattacharya said, “I think it’s an utter disaster for public health, a complete and utter disaster, the lockdowns.”