As the US continues to set new daily record highs of COVID cases, a key adviser on President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force is proposing shutting down businesses for up to six weeks to control the pandemic.
Dr Michael Osterholm, who is director of the Centre of Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, is confident the US can 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,” Dr Osterholm told Yahoo Finance Live.
“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.”
Michael Osterholm (left) at a COVID briefing with Minnesota Governor Tim Walz early in 2020. Photo: Getty
The suggestion came as Chicago issued a stay-at-home advisory notice and Detroit stopped in-person schooling to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
More than a dozen US states have reported a doubling of new cases.
Officials in the Midwestern cities along with New York, California, Iowa and other states are re-imposing restrictions eased in recent months.
The moves have been driven by surging infection rates and concern the onset of winter, when people are more likely to gather indoors, will worsen the trends.
As the crisis has worsened, President Donald Trump has publicly disengaged from the battle against the pandemic.
Mr Trump, fresh from his election loss to Mr Biden, remains angry that an announcement about progress in developing a vaccine for the disease came after Election Day.
Aides say he has shown little interest in the growing crisis even as new confirmed cases skyrocket and some American hospital intensive care units near capacity.
On Thursday (local time), Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a 30-day advisory calling on residents to stay home and have no visitors, even during Thanksgiving.
The US’s third-largest city could have 1000 more COVID-19 deaths by the end of 2020 unless residents changed their behaviour to stop the spread of the virus, she said.
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo imposed a new round of restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the virus as infection rates climb and hospitalisations again soar in the state.
He has ordered bars, restaurants and gyms to shut on-premises services at 10pm each day and capped the number of people at private parties at 10.
“We’re seeing a national and global COVID surge and New York is a ship on the COVID tide,” the governor said.
He added that contact tracing identified late-night gatherings at bars, restaurants and gyms as key virus spreaders in the state.
The measures come a day after California and several states across the Midwest tightened restrictions on residents.
Lockdown ‘like they did in New Zealand and Australia’
Dr Osterholm, who was named to Mr Biden’s COVID-19 12-person advisory board on Monday, referenced a New York Times op-ed he co-wrote with Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari in August, which argued for more restrictive lockdowns across the nation.
The pair argued that nations that had locked down effectively until the virus fully subsided had emerged in a much better position than the US. Instead, it had locked down only partly in a few regions before re-opening too quickly, they said.
Dr Osterholm said a lockdown would help get coronavirus under control, “like they did in New Zealand and Australia”.
“We could really watch ourselves cruising into the vaccine availability in the first and second quarter of next year while bringing back the economy long before that.”