Scott Gottlieb told CNBC Friday that he believes the coronavirus is significantly more prevalent in the United States than official cases show while the highly contagious delta variant is plaguing the nation.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if, in general, we infect up to a million people a day now, and we’re only taking maybe a tenth of that or less than a tenth of that,” the first Food and Drug Administration commissioner said. said in an interview with “Squawk Box.” Gottlieb now serves on board vaccine manufacturer Covid Pfizer.
The current seven-day average of nine cases of coronavirus each day in the United States is about 67,000, according to a CNBC analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. It is up 53% compared to a week ago, as the country faces an increase in nine delta-driven infections, first discovered in India and now the dominant variant in the United States.
“What you reflect is a reality where you have a highly transmissible variant that is widespread in the United States now spreading primarily to a population that is vaccinated and develops mild or no symptoms; or spreading to a younger population that is also less likely to develop symptoms because they’re younger, healthier, ”Gottlieb said, when asked by“ Squawk Box ”co-host Andrew Ross Sorkin how the doctor came up with his“ amazing ”estimate of $ 1 million. of new infections per day.
“Most of the spread and most of the people who show up at the hospital are younger. If that’s where the infection occurs, then there should be a lot more infections under the small number that it does. present in the hospital, ”added Gottlieb, who led the FDA from 2017 to 2019 in the Trump administration. He became a closely watched voice during the pandemic, appearing regularly on CNBC and other media to offer his analysis on the health crisis.
The seven-day average of the new Covid cases registered in the United States was about 251,000 as of Jan. 8, according to CNBC analysis. Case counts dropped dramatically in the spring when the country’s vaccination campaign took off rapidly.
But in recent weeks, when U.S. cases have begun to accelerate, Gottlieb said a large number of coronavirus infections were probably unreported, in part because the test landscape is different now than in the earlier stages of the pandemic. . In the early days, Gottlieb suggested that real case accounts were much higher than official accounts due to scarce evidence resources.
Now, he said it’s a different situation, where the discrepancy between case counts and actual infection levels stems from people remaining asymptomatic or developing only mild symptoms that should not be tested. In addition, Gottlieb previously told CNBC that people can now complete tests at home and these results are unlikely to make their way to health authorities and then be presented in official case accounts.
On Friday, Gottlieb reiterated his view that the United States is much further away from the delta-led infection crisis than others believe. “This delta wave will pass, probably at some point in September,” he predicted.
Gottlieb’s comments Friday after the Washington Post and other media organizations, including CNBC, reported on a leaked document from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the risks posed by the delta variant.
The public health agency document, authenticated to CNBC by the U.S. agency, said the delta variant is as transmissible as chickenpox and suggested that vaccinated people could transmit the virus strain to humans. others as easily as unvaccinated individuals.
The studies and data included in the paper were seen as key factors in the CDC’s reversal rate on masks earlier this week. The agency now recommends that all people, including vaccinated ones, wear indoor face masks in areas with high transmission.
– CNBC’s Nate Rattner contributed to this report.
Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and is a board member of Pfizer, Tempus ’genetic testing start-up, healthcare technology company Aetion Inc. and Illumina biotech company. He also serves as co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings ’‘ Healthy Sail Panel ’and Royal Caribbean.