Dr. Michael Osterholm suggests a 6-week shutdown is needed to contain coronavirus

Says shutdown is the best solution for both COVID containment, and the economy

The Morning News with Dave Lee
August 10, 2020 - 9:06 am

Friday in the New York Times, two prominent Minnesotans wrote an op-ed suggesting that a more restrictive, six-week shutdown would, "crush the spread of the virus to less than one new case per 100,000 people per day."

One of the authors is Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, who said without this shutdown, "the economic recovery will be much slower, with far more business failures and high unemployment for the next year or two."

The other author is Dr. Michael Osterholm who is a professor and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.  

Monday on the Morning News with Dave Lee, Osterholm addressed the concerns he has about the spread of the virus in the United States, and why he believes we need to take more drastic measures now.  

"We've had a wonderful relationship with the expertise of the Reserve Bank here in Minnesota," Osterholm said. "They are have been studying this on like very few economists have. Neil and I have actually done other things together. This is really just an ongoing collaboration, and this piece in the New York Times basically just laid out what we have to do right now about this pandemic, from the standpoint of of really reducing its impact in the United States. It's not only good for health, but it's also good for the economy. And that's what this piece really detailed."

Osterholm says the United States, on a national level, has really failed compared to other parts of the world in containing the virus.

"In early March through April, many countries found themselves a house on fire," Osterholm tells Dave Lee. "We did in this country, particularly in the New York metropolitan area, but also in Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, Atlanta, places like that. Some in Seattle. And at the time, as we all recall, there was the need to flatten the curve. That idea of locking down the economy in such a way as people basically sheltered at home largely. And if people weren't having contact with the people you weren't gonna transmit the virus.

"Well, many other countries have the same situation as we did, and they did a real lock down. They actually really did bring the the contact between people to a minimum. And as a result of that number one, they really did start to put the extinguish the virus transmission. Second of all is they stayed with it till they got it down to a point where I like to imagine that big forest fire coronavirus we had, they got it down. So all they had were hot spots left. They didn't just quit after they had 80% of the fire contained."

Osterholm added, other countries across the world still have cases.  There have been breakouts in parts of Europe, resurgances in China, and lately Australia has had a surge of cases.  

"They've nonetheless had manageable outbreaks that have continued to occur. So it's not like it's gone from these countries, but they've been able to open up a great deal of their economy. They've been able to safely start schools again. And what we did is we went from 232,000 cases a day to 22,000 cases a day. Memorial Day happened. The protests started and people said we're done. Pandemic fatigue set in. We don't care. You know, we we don't worry about the virus anymore. And look what happened. Suddenly we're back up to 65,000 cases a day, which is absolutely unnatural. That is literarally a coronavirus forest fire of the worst kind."

Osterholm is making the case that the least painful way to recover is to close down once again.

"What we're saying is, until we lock down again, and bringing these cases to a screeching halt which could, by the way, be for months and months, these cases can occur a these high levels. Because it will be that long before a vaccine is here if we get one at all. And our argument is that in the long run, we actually save money for the economy. We save more jobs, not lose them. And we actually greatly reduce the number of cases. That's really the thesis of what we're trying to put forward out there."

RELATED: Russia's race for virus vaccine raises concerns in the West.

Osterholm also addressed kids going back to school this fall.  Osterholm says despite claims made that kids are "almost immune to coronavirus", as President Trump suggested recently, it's not true.  Most importantly, they do spread the virus if they become infected. 

"Many of us have been saying the kids do get infected with this and that's not a surprise. I think the challenge we have is what is the level of illness they get in terms of severity. And in younger kids, they do surely develop a condition, this multi-system issue of what we call kind of a cross between toxic shock and Kawasaki disease. It's rare. It's very rare, but it does occur."

Osterhom says the real concern is with older kids, who are in high school or college, going back to school.

"I think the thing that's really going to come front and center over the next few weeks as schools reopen is those kids are in secondary school, junior high in high school, do very much get infected and spread the virus. I think we're going to see a lot of increased transmission in early September with colleges coming back, and high schools and junior highs coming back. This is gonna be the challenge. We see much less of this in the elementary schools, but is going to be a real challenge in the older individuals."

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