The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should adjust its Covid masking guidance to account for high immunity protection in America, specifically when it comes to schools, Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Wednesday.
“We have a much more contagious variant that is probably going to continue to circulate and you have a population that has much more immunity,” the former Food and Drug Administration chief said in a “Squawk Box” interview, referring to the proliferation of the omicron variant in the U.S., on top of most school-age kids being eligible for vaccination.
“We’re going to probably have to tolerate, and probably should, a higher level of baseline spread at the point at which we consider withdrawing some of this mitigation,” said Gottlieb, a current board member at Covid vaccine maker Pfizer, which has recently requested that the FDA clear two-dose vaccinations for children 6 months to 5 years old.
Gottlieb said the U.S. shouldn’t wait until what the CDC considers low prevalence in a community — less than 10 cases per 100,000 people per day — to end masking students, teachers, staff and school visitors.
“If we hold out, again, if we wait for 10 cases per 100,000 per day in most communities, we’re probably going to be waiting until the summer; we’re going to lose the opportunity this spring to try to return some sense of normalcy in the schools,” he added, arguing a more appropriate threshold could be 20 cases per 100,000 people per day.
Gottlieb said the CDC’s guidance is “a pretty high threshold in the age of omicron,” adding that agency testing conducted right before the omicron wave showed that 90% of Americans have antibodies against Covid either through a vaccine or infection, or both.
The CDC was not immediately available to respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
Teachers have been vocal about the risks they face when coming into schools as cases fluctuate. The concerns were personified in the standoff between Chicago Public Schools and the teachers union early last month.
When asked about educators’ opposition to getting rid of masking, Gottlieb said Wednesday that a combination of lower cases and a vaccinated workforce will help protect teachers. “As prevalence comes down, the risk comes down substantially, and what we’ve seen is that the vaccines are still very protective against symptomatic disease and severe outcomes in the setting of omicron.”
Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and is a member of the boards of Pfizer, genetic testing start-up Tempus, health-care tech company Aetion and biotech company Illumina. He also serves as co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ and Royal Caribbean’s “Healthy Sail Panel.”