Washington — With coronavirus infections spiking in more than three dozen states, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), predicted Sunday that the Thanksgiving holiday will be an "inflection point" for the pandemic.
"Things are getting worse around the country," Gottlieb said in an interview with "Face the Nation." "I think Thanksgiving is really going to be an inflection point. I think December is probably going to be our toughest month."
Gottlieb, who led the FDA under President Trump, said spread of the virus is accelerating in 23 states, including across the Midwest and the Great Lakes region, while 15 states have a positivity rate above 10%. There is an expanding epidemic in all 50 states, he said.
"This is very worrisome as we head into the winter," Gottlieb said, adding that "as we get into the next two or three weeks, it's going to be unmistakable what's happening around the country. And we're going to have to start taking tough steps."
Public health experts and doctors in the Trump administration have warned for weeks Americans should brace themselves for a difficult winter, but Mr. Trump has claimed the country is "rounding the turn." During a rally in Michigan on Friday, the president claimed without evidence that doctors are profiting off deaths from COVID-19.
"You know, our doctors get more money if somebody dies from COVID. You know that, right?" Mr. Trump alleged. "I mean, our doctors are very smart people. So what they do is they say, 'I'm sorry, but, you know, everybody dies of COVID.'"
Gottlieb said it's "troubling" for Mr. Trump to suggest doctors are manipulating data to get higher reimbursements. He noted the CARES Act, which the president signed into law in March, provides more money for COVID-pneumonia cases because it's more expensive to treat those patients in hospitals.
"Any doctor that would be documenting COVID-pneumonia in a case where the patient doesn't have pneumonia, that's fraud," he said.
When asked where Mr. Trump might have heard such a claim, Gottlieb said it's unlikely he came up with the allegation on his own.
"Unfortunately I think there [are] probably advisers telling him that," he said.
There have been more than 9.1 million coronavirus cases in the U.S., and the death toll surpassed 230,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic also continues, with more than 22 million Americans currently receiving jobless aid, according to the Department of Labor.
The White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, remain at an impasse over another coronavirus relief package. But Gottlieb said it's crucial for Mr. Trump to focus on supplying aid to the states in his second term, if he wins reelection.
"They have to get a stimulus passed. They've got to get funding out to states to try to deal with this," he said. "I think we need to focus on what we're going to prioritize in terms of trying to keep things open and get things open after we're through this, particularly the schools. We're going to need to support states that have to take that targeted action, try to get compliance for things like masks. So I think the bully pulpit is very important. The national leadership trying to galvanize collective action to try to reduce the spread."
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