'The new normal': Ex-FDA chief warns U.S. may not be able to lower coronavirus infection rate

WASHINGTON — As states begin to reopen their economies, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb warned Tuesday that the U.S. might not be able to lower transmission of the coronavirus much more than the current rate, which has resulted in about 30,000 new cases a day.

“I think that we need to understand this may be the new normal," Gottlieb said in an interview with Savannah Guthrie on NBC’s “TODAY” show. "We may not be able to get transmission down much more. I hope we can.”

"The most likely scenario is that cases go up, not down," Gottlieb added. "And so we need to think about what it looks like in the country if we have transmission of this virus and we try to get back to some sense of normalcy.”

This would mean getting personal protective equipment to vulnerable populations who “end up being disadvantaged Americans” and who work under conditions where they can’t socially distance, such as in meatpacking plants.

Gottlieb said that analysts expected the U.S. would have seen a decline in cases at this point, as states navigate reopening aspects of their economies, and that hasn't happened.

“So as we go through May, we're likely to see the case count start to creep back up again,” he said.

The U.S. is still experiencing a “high level of infection,” Gottlieb said, and has been on a sustained plateau for about 30 days, with about 30,000 new COVID-19 cases a day and sometimes 2,000 deaths per day. While he said New York has seen a sustained decline in cases, they are increasing around the rest of the country.

“There's about 20 states where cases are going up on a daily basis, and so are hospitalizations,” he said.

Gottlieb's comments come as some states are permitting businesses to reopen and as a new Trump administration report obtained by The New York Times projected that deaths from the coronavirus could reach 3,000 a day on June 1. The document said that the administration’s forecast could reach 200,000 new COVID-19 cases a day by the end of the month.

"Modeling is imprecise and that's why we shouldn't put stock in any one model," Gottlieb said Tuesday. "It's not like forecasting the weather where you make a prediction and then you see what happens. You make these predictions and then you take actions based on those predictions."