Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Monday that he believes the Delta variant-driven spike in covid that has wrecked the American South has peaked.
“I thought there was some indication that the south has peaked and I think it’s pretty clear right now that the south has peaked,” said the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. “It doesn’t feel like it because we still have a lot of new infections every day and the hospitals have some very tough weeks ahead of them,” he admitted. “You will still be maxing out when the infections start to decline.”
Gottlieb’s comments on “Squawk Box” came when the seven-day average of new daily coronavirus infections nationwide in the US was about 147,300, according to a CNBC analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. That is 13% more than a week ago.
Many southern states, especially in areas with lower Covid vaccination rates like parts of Louisiana and Arkansas, were among the first places in the United States where coronavirus infections related to the highly communicable Delta variant rose sharply. Signs that the current wave of infections is rolling over in the south could provide insight into the experiences of other US regions that were affected by the Delta variant a few weeks later.
“If you look at states like Arkansas and Louisiana, you can see the cases decline,” said Gottlieb, who sits on the board of directors at Covid vaccine maker Pfizer. The company’s vaccine received full FDA approval Monday morning.
According to CNBC’s analysis of the Johns Hopkins data, the seven-day average of daily new infections in Arkansas is 0.5% lower than it was a week ago, meaning it’s more or less constant. In Louisiana, new daily coronavirus cases are down 14% from a week ago, based on a seven-day average, analysis by CNBC found.
Other metrics inform Gottlieb’s view of the south. The former FDA chief who headed drug agency in the Trump administration from 2017 to 2019 also referred to estimated transmission rates in southern states calculated by the website covidestim.org.
The project is led by public health researchers at Harvard and Yale Universities and provides real-time estimates of an epidemiological concept known as R0 or R-naught. When R is zero, it means that the average person infected with the coronavirus is passing it on to someone else. If the value for a particular location is below 1, it signals a decreasing transmission of a disease.
“The rate of expansion of this epidemic is less than 1 in most of the south, including Florida,” said Gottlieb, “which indicates a contracting epidemic.”
Florida set a series of record highs for daily coronavirus infections during its delta-triggered surge, and hospitals in the state were pushed to their limits. In early August, Florida accounted for about 20% of the reported new Covid cases in the US the week before.
“If you look at the Florida data, cases are falling day by day for every age category except children under 18 because you are now seeing outbreaks in schools that are driving the infection,” Gottlieb said. “If Florida schools weren’t open … and you didn’t see this outbreak in children, Florida would be clearly on the decline in terms of day-to-day cases.”
In late July, Gottlieb told CNBC that he believed the US as a whole would see its delta-driven wave plateau in mid to late August. That didn’t happen.
Recently, on August 13th, he said, “You will likely see the delta waveform between late September and October.” Also during that interview he added, “Hopefully we’ll be on the other side or on the other side sometime in November, and we won’t see a big surge of infection on the other side after this delta wave.”
Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC employee and a member of the board of directors of Pfizer, genetic testing startup Tempus, health technology company Aetion Inc., and biotechnology company Illumina. He is also co-chair of the Healthy Sail Panel for Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean.