Dr. Scott Gottlieb: ‘This is really a 2020 event’ provided U.S. stays vigilant on coronavirus

Dr. Scott Gottlieb said Wednesday he hopes the U.S. is beyond the throes of the coronavirus pandemic by early next year, but cautioned against easing up on public health mitigation strategies just yet. 

“As we get into 2021, we’re going to have enough exposure in the general population, enough awareness, people will be taking precautions in perpetuity for a period of time, and hopefully a vaccine at some point in early 2021, that we get this behind us,” Gottlieb said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

Gottlieb, the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner under President Donald Trump, stressed that his forecast was not a guarantee and is contingent, in part, on the actions taken by the American public. 

“It’s going to be dependent upon, I think, people just maintaining some level of vigilance with masks and other simple measures they can take to reduce the risk of spread heading into the fall and winter,” said Gottlieb, who sits on the board of Pfizer, which is developing a vaccine to prevent Covid-19. “There’s a real risk that you’re going to see an uptick in cases as we enter the fall and the winter, but I think this is really a 2020 event.”

Gottlieb’s comments come as new daily infections in the U.S. continue to show signs of decline after a summer surge in cases that swept across the country, particularly in the American South and West. However, new deaths, which lag new cases, were again over 1,000 on Tuesday, according to data from the Covid Tracking Project.

The U.S. has nearly 5.8 million confirmed cases of Covid-19, according to Johns Hopkins University data, and at least 178,533 people have died. 

As the U.S. enters the fall, Gottlieb said he expects the public health response to be aided by further advancements on tests for Covid-19 that can produce results quickly. He compared this variety of test to pregnancy tests, saying people would put a swab of fluid —saliva or from a nasal swab — onto a piece of paper and within 10 to 15 minutes, “you get a read out on whether or not you have Covid.” 

“I think we’re going to see those tests come into the market. They’re going to be in significant quantities, and they’re going to give rapid results and be fairly reliable,” he said, adding that these tests would “change the equation” by allowing more testing to come into workplaces and schools. 

“So things are going to change, I think, very quickly in terms of what we have available to us, the technology, to combat this,” he added. 

Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and is a member of the boards of Pfizer, genetic-testing start-up Tempus and biotech company Illumina. 

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