As the U.S. continues to set new daily record highs of coronavirus cases, at least one doctor on President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force is floating the idea of shutting down businesses in a lockdown that could last four to six weeks to control the spread of the pandemic.
In a Wednesday interview with Yahoo Finance Live, Dr. Michael Osterholm, who currently serves as director of the Center of Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, stressed that the country is in a position to pay its workers to stay home.
“We could pay for a package right now to cover all of the lost wages for individual workers, for losses to small companies, to medium-sized companies or city, state, county governments. We could do all of that,” he said. “If we did that, then we could lock down for four to six weeks and if we did that, we could drive the numbers down.”
Osterholm, who was named to President-elect Biden’s Covid-19 12-person advisory board on Monday, pointed to the August New York Times op-ed he co-wrote with Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari which argued for more restrictive lockdowns across the nation. In the op-ed, the duo argued that nations that had locked down effectively and completely until the virus fully subsided emerged in a much better position than the U.S., which only partially locked down in a few regions before re-opening too quickly, they said.
“If I interviewed 50 people today in the U.S. for what they define a lockdown as I could get 75 different answers,” Osterholm said, adding that he predicted in August the U.S. would find itself facing COVID hell as a result of reopening too quickly. “We said this would happen if we did nothing different.”
On Wednesday, the nation as a whole recorded more than 145,000 new COVID-19 cases to set a new record high. In some areas of the country, the number of hospitalizations is already pushing hospital staff to the brink. In El Paso, Texas, for example, the city had to bring in overflow hospital beds and upped its mobile morgue units from three, to four, and then 10 this week. At a Wednesday total of more than 1,000 hospitalized patients, the border town now has more COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization than most states.
In a dire warning, Osterholm predicted El Paso is not an outlier but rather the norm that could be coming to more towns across America as the holiday season approaches.
“People don't want to hear that El Paso isn't an isolated event,” he said. “El Paso, in many instances, will become the norm."
In an interview with Yahoo Finance as El Paso’s outbreak was just beginning to intensify, Mayor Dee Margo partially pointed the finger at coronavirus fatigue on the part of his constituents. A closer Yahoo Finance analysis revealed a broken and often-conflicting response from the county and state level as Texas’s Attorney General sued to overturn a lockdown order from El Paso’s county judge.
Osterholm stressed that a unified message coming from the federal government would help begin to reel in the pandemic.
“We need FDR moments right now. We need fireside chats. We need somebody to tell America, this is what in the hell is going to happen,” he said.
Zack Guzman is the co-host of the 11AM - 1PM hours on Yahoo Finance Live as well as a senior writer and on-air reporter covering entrepreneurship, cannabis, startups, and breaking news at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @zGuz.