The latest declines in infections are encouraging because they are a result of vaccination and population immunity from prior infections, suggesting it might be time to relax coronavirus restrictions, according to former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.
"We are seeing a hopeful trend across the country: Cases are clearly declining," Gottlieb told CBS's "Face the Nation." "The positivity rate is about 3.3% right now. Hospitalizations are falling as well, which is a good indication. And even in hard-hit areas like Michigan, which had late epidemics, late surges, you're seeing cases start to come down. I think whereas the past trends when we saw cases start to decline, we were somewhat skeptical because we knew a lot of those declines were a result of behavioral changes, people pulling back more, taking more precautions. And then as soon as we sort of let our guard down, we saw cases surge again.
"Right now, the declines that we're seeing, we can take to the bank. I think we could feel more assured because they're being driven by vaccinations and greater levels of population-wide immunity, not just from vaccination, but also from prior infection. There's been a lot of Americans who've had this infection and have a level of immunity from their prior disease."
Gottlieb admits the restrictions on Americans amid the height of the COVID-19 outbreak had their place, but he also admitted they might be easier to implement than they are to unwind.
"I think oftentimes a mistake we make is that we're quicker to implement these precautions than we are to lift them, because we're worried that once we lift them, we won't be able to reimplement them," Gottlieb added to guest host John Dickerson. "I think we need to lean more aggressively forward and look at ways to try to relax some of the provisions that don't really make as much sense anymore."
For instance, Gottlieb noted, outdoor mask mandates might not be necessary any longer.
"I think we should be thinking about lifting mask ordinances outside," he said. "I think we should be thinking about lifting limits on gatherings outside and trying to encourage people to go outside now that the weather is warming, take more activities outside in the face of declining risk overall."
The data is suggesting progress in slowing the spread, according to Gottlieb.
"Again, I think that these declines we're seeing are really locked in at this point, so I don't think we need to be as worried that as we take our foot off the brake, things are going to surge again," he concluded. "People, by and large, are engaging in a lot of activity."
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