US Nowhere Near Ready for Business as Usual, Former CDC Head Says


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Our new normal will not be life as we knew it before the coronavirus traveled around the world.

That is what Dr. Tom Frieden said April 13 in a Zoom remote event sponsored by STAT, a news publication about health.

Frieden is head of Resolve to Save Lives, a global public health initiative. He is also the former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a wide-ranging discussion, he compared fighting the coronavirus to fighting a global war. He described the virus as an infectious and deadly enemy and said the more we learn about it, the more fearsome it appears.

Frieden warned that we are at least a year, perhaps many years, away from having a vaccine.

President Donald Trump and some of his advisers have been anxious to reopen businesses that have been shuttered since mid-March, but Frieden said health officials must first "box in" the virus.

The four corners of the box include widespread testing, so health officials know where the virus is going, finding people who are sick, tracing their contacts and mandating a 14-day quarantine for all contacts, whether they test positive or not, and finding ways to isolate or treat everyone with COVID-19.

"If any one of those four sides is weak," Frieden said, "the virus will escape, will get out, and will spread widely in society."

Frieden added that before the U.S. is ready to reopen, deaths have to decrease, the health care system has to be more robust, health care workers have to be protected from infection, and people with severe coronavirus disease have to be well cared for, as well as those who have chronic health conditions.

Even with these actions, Frieden said the virus will still be there.

"We're going to need to keep it at a simmer rather than let it explode," he said.

And when society reopens, Frieden said life will not be the same as before. We may have to continue with more social distancing, more telecommuting, fewer business meetings and no handshaking, in addition to other changes.

"There is no immunity to it in society, as far as we know," Frieden said. "This is a virus that should never be underestimated. It is very hard to fight."

WATCH: Dr. Tom Frieden talks about COVID-19 pandemic