Press "Enter" to skip to content

‘We’re losing valuable time,’ former FDA chief says of US coronavirus outbreak

The U.S. is running out of time to contain the budding COVID-19 outbreaks on the West Coast, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Wednesday. 

While there are still just over 100 confirmed cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gottlieb said the undetected number is likely in the thousands.

“It’s probably the case that we will have an epidemic here in the U.S., but we can dramatically affect the contours of that,” he said on “Squawk Box.” He called for local officials to cancel large gatherings and close schools. “We’re losing valuable time. We need to start thinking about these measures in the regions where there is spread right now.”

There are at least “two different chains of spread” in the U.S., added Gottlieb, a CNBC contributor who sits on the boards of Pfizer and biotech company Illumina. One chain, he said, is in Washington state and one in California. 

Washington state health officials on Tuesday identified three new coronavirus fatalities, bringing the U.S. death toll to nine, all in the state. The total number of confirmed cases in Washington state was 27, as of Tuesday, up from 18 on Monday. The state Department of Health said 231 people are being monitored by public health officials. 

The Life Care Center of Kirkland, a Seattle-area skilled nursing care facility, is one source of outbreak.

At least five deaths have been traced to Life Care, according to Washington state and local health officials. On Saturday, local health officials said about 50 residents and employees of the facility outside Seattle were ill with “respiratory symptoms or hospitalized with pneumonia or other respiratory conditions of unknown cause” and were being tested for COVID-19.

In California, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department on Tuesday announced two new cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing the county’s total number of cases to 11.

“I think we’re just days away from mitigation steps in those regions,” Gottlieb said. “It’s important to be very aggressive early on.”

Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and is a member of the boards of Pfizer and biotech company Illumina.