The lockdown suggestion is widely regarded as extreme and it’s unclear the federal government could even enforce such a drastic measure. It is also counter to remarks made by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who said the country won’t tolerate another lockdown and that masks and social distancing is what should be pushed.
Osterholm is the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, and on Monday was tapped as a member of the Biden transition team’s COVID-19 advisory board. However, Osterholm is not leading it and is speaking independently, so his remarks do not reflect the transition team’s policy.
In an interview with bioreports Finance, Osterholm specifically referred to a piece that he co-wrote for The bioreports in August with Neel Kashkari, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, telling bioreports, “we predicted … where we’d be right now, we said this would happen if we did nothing different”
Osterholm said if the government could offer financial support to individuals and companies, it might offer a respite for the country to implement a temporary national lockdown.
“We have a big pool of money out there that we could borrow,” Osterholm said Wednesday, noting “historic low interest rates by the federal government.”
He added that the government could pay for lost wages for workers, losses to small and medium-sized companies, as well as city, state and county governments.
“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, like they’ve done in Asia, like they did in New Zealand and Australia, and then we could really watch ourselves cruising into the vaccine availability in the first and second quarter of next year and bringing back the economy long before that,” Osterholm said.
Fauci, however, has said that a lockdown wouldn’t be necessary if the country is able to practice public health measures.
“If we can do the public health measures, we wouldn’t have to do that,” Fauci said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Thursday. “The best opposite strategy to locking down is to intensify the public health measures short of locking down. So if you can do that well, you don’t have to take that step that people are trying to avoid, which has so many implications both psychologically and economically. We’d like not to do that.”
Fauci also said “help is really on the way,” referring to a vaccine.
“You know, if you think of it metaphorically — the cavalry is coming here … if we could just hang in there, do the public health measures that we’re talking about, we’re going to get this under control, I promise you,” Fauci said.
Although Osterholm is an adviser to Biden, at a recent ABC News town hall before the election, Biden said he didn’t think there would be a need for a lockdown, but said he would listen to science.
“You can contain the pandemic by being rational, and not crush the economy,” Biden said. “You can open businesses and schools if, in fact, you provide them the guidance that they need, as well as the money to be able to do it.”
When asked about Osterholm’s comments, Biden’s communications director Kate Bedingfield told Bioreports’s Jake Tapper that Biden is focused on the plan he laid out during the campaign, which called for encouraging mask mandates nationwide and boosting testing.
“He’s going to be informed by the best expertise and public health expertise out there,” she said, adding that he’s “going to move forward on the plans he laid out in the campaign.”
ABC News’ Anne Flaherty, Molly Nagle and Jordyn Phelps contributed to this report.