The latest upswing in U.S. coronavirus cases is unlikely to reach its peak until after Thanksgiving, Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Thursday, a stark prediction for a nation that is already seeing record levels of diagnosed infections.
The country’s seven-day average of new cases reached a fresh high of almost 74,200 on Wednesday, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. That represents a 23.6% increase from a week ago.
Gottlieb, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner under the Trump administration, said that in previous Covid-19 surges, transmission rates really only started to come down when Americans in hard-hit regions started to “express more caution” by going out less and wear face masks more regularly.
“And I think it’s going to take more infection until we get there, unfortunately,” he said in a “Squawk Box” interview. “I think after Thanksgiving, that’s going to be a turning point when the infection levels get high enough in many parts of the country that we start to see a policy reaction and also consumer behavior start to change. The month of December is really spent probably hunkering down a bit more, and hopefully we turn the corner as we get into the new year.”
New cases of Covid-19 are growing, based on a seven-day average, in 47 states, according to CNBC’s analysis of Hopkins data. Hospitalizations have reached record highs in 16 states, including many Midwestern states such as Wisconsin, Ohio and the Dakotas.
Overall, the U.S. has nearly 8.9 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus and at least 227,703 deaths, Hopkins data shows. On Wednesday, the country saw 78,981 new diagnosed infections, according to Hopkins data. “We’ll cross 100,000 infections at some point in the next couple of weeks probably,” Gottlieb said. “We might do it this week if all the states report on time.”
Gottlieb expressed concern that families getting together around the Thanksgiving will contribute to further spread of the coronavirus, making December “the more difficult month.” He said his family won’t be gathering this Thanksgiving because of Covid-19.
The nation’s top infectious disease expert, 79-year-old Dr. Anthony Fauci, has expressed similar plans, saying his three children will not be traveling to see him since it would require them to fly and use public transportation.
“I have older parents. I’m not going to be bringing together a large group of people and risking older individuals who we have so far been able to protect through this virus,” Gottlieb said. “I think we’ll be celebrating together in 2021, Thanksgiving of 2021. We need to get through the next couple of months. This is the hardest point in this pandemic, the next two months. … We can’t give up our guard right now. I think we need to continue to be vigilant.”
Disclosure: Dr. Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and is a member of the boards of Pfizer, genetic-testing start-up Tempus and biotech company Illumina. He also serves as co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings′ and Royal Caribbean‘s Healthy Sail Panel.