The following is a transcript of an interview with former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, aired on November 1, 2020, on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’re going to the former FDA Commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, and we want to thank you for being here in person. You’ve been tested. I was tested. You are at a distance, so we hope you approve. I haven’t seen you in person since mid-March, but things haven’t improved. In fact, they seem to be getting worse and accelerating the infection rate only this week. I mean, the numbers are pretty amazing. The president keeps saying we’re making the corner. That is simply not true.
DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB: No, things are getting worse all over the country. I think Thanksgiving will be a turning point. I think December will probably be our hardest month. But when you look at what’s happening in the states right now, you see that the spread is accelerating. We are right at the beginning of what appears to be exponential growth in many states, the Midwest, the Great Lakes region, even states like Texas, where you see 6,000 cases, Illinois, 8,000 cases, Florida 5,000 cases, Wisconsin 5,000 cases reported Friday. These are very worrying trends. There are currently about 23 states accelerating the spread. Right now, there is – the positivity rate is over 10% in 15 states. And all states have an R over one, which means they are an expanding epidemic right now. So this is very worrying as we head into winter.
MARGARET BRENNAN: In fact, this was acknowledged in a fairly candid interview by Dr. Fauci with The Washington Post, which published yesterday. He said neither he nor Dr. Birx of the Task Force had informed the president for quite some time. He said that because the White House did not like the news. They needed to have a medical message that was essentially in line with what they were saying. It is quite clear that medical information and public health are played out for political purposes.
DR. GOTTLIEB: Well …
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you agree with that?
DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, look, I think the facts will overcome any political dialogue very quickly. I think that as we enter the next two or three weeks, what is happening in the country will be unmistakable. And we will have to start taking hard steps. I don’t think we will get stuck, as Europe is right now. And Europe has a very dense epidemic. There is a very worrying trend in Europe. I think we will …
MARGARET BRENNAN: Europe didn’t think they would close either, and now they are.
DR. GOTTLIEB: It’s true, but I don’t think political support is here even at the state level. I think you’ll see the attenuation targeted. States are taking local action, but we will have to start taking more aggressive action. Probably my opinion is that the turning point will be Thanksgiving. You will see the cases accumulated in the next three weeks, and December will be a really slow month. But I think it will be unmistakable what is happening at that moment and we will have to, because the hospital systems will be pressed again.
MARGARET BRENNAN: No matter what happens in this election, the president is still the president until at least January. If he wins, he holds this for a second term. What should he focus on?
DR. GOTTLIEB: I think we need to focus on providing resources to states. They must receive a stimulus. It needs to get funding from states to try to deal with this. I think we need to focus on what we are going to prioritize in terms of trying to keep things open and open after we’ve been through this, especially schools. We will have to support the states that need to take targeted action, try to get compliance for things like masks. So I think the bully’s pulpit is very important. The national leadership is trying to galvanize the collective action to try to reduce the spread. You are right. Once we continue this in the next two months, this will largely happen in the next two months. Until a president is inaugurated in January, whoever he is, we will probably go through the most acute phase of this – we will go down the curve of the epidemic. So this will really happen under the leadership of the president. What you do in the next two months will be very important.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So Joe Biden, I know you looked at his plan. If he wins, he comes at a time in January, where we could be downhill here. What needs to happen in that November-January period, regardless of who is president? And – and we are in a scenario where only Congress – nothing is being said? I mean, what does that look like?
DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, look, Joe Biden spoke – the vice president talked about trying to make testing more accessible to consumers. I think it will be very important. I think that at that time we should try to prioritize the opening of schools in late winter or early spring. We will have an opportunity …
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think schools should close again?
DR. GOTTLIEB: – to do this. I don’t think so – I think schools that are open right now could find ways to stay open. I think that schools that are closed right now, we must give priority to trying to open them. There is much evidence now that schools can be opened safely if they take prudent steps. This should be our number one priority. I think that when Biden enters, there should be an emphasis, trying to get specific resources, appropriate PPE for teachers, testing in schools that can’t use social distancing, trying to introduce those resources into schools so that schools can open . Also reporting on the collective experience. If you can provide more information about what worked and what didn’t in terms of keeping schools open, it will reassure more districts about opening. This should be a very high priority for this nation. Unfortunately, I don’t think it wasn’t. We have talked about this, but we have not taken any action to make it easier.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to hear a sound for you from something that President Trump said at a rally this week.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You know, our doctors get more money if someone dies from COVID. You know that, don’t you? I mean, our doctors are very smart people. So what I’m doing is saying, I’m sorry, but, you know, everyone dies of COVID.
MARGARET BRENNAN: It seems that the president says that there is a financial incentive for doctors to manipulate COVID data …
DR. GOTTLIEB: Look, I think …
MARGARET BRENNAN: – or I make money from it.
DR. GOTTLIEB: – I think it’s worrying to suggest that doctors are manipulating the data to try to get a higher reimbursement. The CARES law, which the president signed, provides additional money, about 20% more money for a COVID-pneumonia case than a regular pneumonia case. The reason was because it is more expensive to take care of these patients in hospitals. Hospitals are bleeding money. This was a way to try to get them more resources. But you must have COVID and you must have pneumonia and it must be documented. Any doctor who would document COVID-pneumonia in a case where the patient does not have pneumonia is a fraud. The CMS has also implemented measures to try to encourage hospitals to do more tests inside the hospital. So the testing that doctors do in hospitals is because the government has encouraged them to do these tests. But the only extra money is if you have – if you have pneumonia and COVID. It is not about these patients that I am talking about that they happen to have another condition and have COVID. There is no additional refund for this.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Who do you think is telling him that?
DR. GOTTLIEB: I think there is – unfortunately I think there are probably counselors who tell him that. I don’t think the president got that on his own.
MARGARET BRENNAN: It’s so good to see you in person.
DR. GOTTLIEB: Nice to see you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Stay healthy.
DR. GOTTLIEB: Thank you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And we’ll be back in a moment with our CBS News election team. So don’t leave.