Bill Gates explains how the United States can safely ease coronavirus restrictions

Bill Gates tells Fareed the what he sees as the way forward for re-starting parts of the U.S. economy without risking a huge spike in Covid-19 cases.

Posted: Apr 27, 2020 11:01 PM
Updated: Apr 27, 2020 11:01 PM

The ability for parts of the United States to safely and effectively begin to lift coronavirus restrictions will depend on the country's capacity to aggressively test for and trace new cases of the virus, Bill Gates told CNN's Fareed Zakaria Sunday.

His comments come as several US states prepare to ease social distancing and stay-at-home restrictions this week, despite warnings from health researchers that no state should reopen before May 1. Meanwhile, the total number of reported coronavirus cases in the United States is nearing 1 million, and more than 54,000 Americans have died.

Gates, the Microsoft founder whose foundation has studied pandemics for years and is now involved in fighting coronavirus, warned that just because some areas looking to reopen have experienced relatively small outbreaks doesn't mean they're not at risk.

Many are concerned that reopening too soon could prompt a second wave of infections in the United States as deadly as the first. States must weigh that risk against trying to recover from the economic crisis that's been caused by coronavirus-related shut downs.

"If they open up, they can go back into exponential (coronavirus infection) growth and compete with New York on that basis," Gates said, adding that areas that reopen and allow people to move around could also seed infections in other parts of the country, further slowing the recovery from the pandemic.

How to reopen

Successful reopenings will happen in stages, Gates said, guidance that's in line with recommendations from many health experts and economists, including the World Health Organization. And will require thinking critically about which elements of society are most essential to get back to work, implementing safety measures as they are reopened and ensuring diagnostic testing and contact tracing are in place to understand the effects that easing restrictions has on the spread of the virus.

"What we don't know is, (if) we go slightly back to normal, which activities create the risk of a rebound?" Gates said. "We need to put in place a very dense testing regime so you would detect that rebound going back into exponential growth very quickly and not wait for the ICUs to fill up and there to be a lot of deaths. If you see the hot spot, you kind of understand the activities causing that."

In two suggested plans for reopening the US economy, public health experts and economists said that the country would have to perform millions of diagnostic tests each week before restrictions could be safely lifted.

Gates said Sunday that new testing machines and methods should soon be able to get the United States up to between 400,000 and 500,000 tests per day, though that's "just barely enough for really doing the tracking."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, estimated on Saturday that the country is conducting approximately 1.5 million to 2 million Covid-19 tests per week and said it is likely the testing capacity could be doubled within the next several weeks. So far, the United States has only performed about 4 million coronavirus tests.

Gates added: "The key thing about the US, though, this focus on the number of tests understates the cacophony and mistakes we made in the testing system," including testing shortages, inequality in who can access testing and test results taking longer than 24 hours to reach patients.

As the country ramps up testing and tracking, cities and states must have a staged reopening of various parts of the economy, Gates said, though he admitted "we're a little naive about how to prioritize these activities."

In Georgia on Friday, Governor Brian Kemp allowed hair salons, tattoo parlors, gyms and bowling alleys to reopen, with some caveats for social distancing and screening employees for illness, despite warnings from health researchers. Several other states, including Colorado, Oklahoma and Montana, have taken similar steps toward reopening.

Gates said that when planning for staged reopenings, states should focus on "high value" segments of the economy such as schools, manufacturing and construction, and should figure out how to operate those things with masks and social distancing. Once some schools and businesses get back to work, communities should continue to track the effects on infection rates.

But it will take time.

"The inequality has gotten greater in education, so if we can figure out how to do K through 12 in the fall, that would be good," Gates said. "I even think if we're creative about it and things have gone well, we'll be able to do college."

The case for continued prevention measures

Careful planning to manage the virus is crucial because it will likely still be one to two years before a coronavirus vaccine is developed and ready for large-scale production, Gates said. The Trump administration has estimated a vaccine is 12 to 18 months away, though some leaders in the field say that timeline could be too fast.

Although some have suggested ramping up vaccine production before a vaccine has actually been approved, Gates said the "stage 3" testing that determines whether a drug could have harmful side effects will take time.

"It's very hard to compress these timeframes," he said.

Gates also commented on conspiracy theories that have accused him of profiteering from the pandemic. He called the accusations ironic, after his foundation has spent decades funding and leading research into understanding and protecting against dangerous diseases, though he said he doesn't believe a "meaningful" number of people believe them.

He did say, however, that he wishes he'd been able to get more people to understand the threat posed by coronavirus sooner.

"I always think, how could I have gotten the message out in a stronger way? Where did I fall short?" he said. "Only 5% of what should have been done was done."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 159036

Reported Deaths: 3879
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10563104
Hinds10414204
Harrison7397113
Jackson6655128
Rankin6057107
Lee540396
Madison5120107
Forrest394786
Jones376188
Lauderdale3663147
Lafayette341053
Washington3321108
Lamar301950
Oktibbeha255262
Lowndes252867
Bolivar248084
Panola237353
Neshoba2280122
Marshall225051
Leflore211191
Monroe209778
Pontotoc208131
Lincoln200566
Sunflower194155
Warren183058
Tate180451
Union172926
Copiah170840
Pike166760
Scott161330
Yazoo161340
Itawamba159936
Alcorn159328
Pearl River158969
Coahoma155943
Prentiss154931
Simpson154053
Adams147252
Grenada145445
Leake141844
Holmes134461
Covington130040
Tippah130030
George129525
Winston128726
Hancock127641
Wayne123024
Attala122834
Marion121447
Tishomingo114043
Chickasaw110732
Newton110529
Tallahatchie99427
Clay96127
Clarke94853
Jasper87023
Stone82015
Calhoun79513
Walthall79330
Montgomery78426
Carroll75515
Lawrence74614
Smith74216
Yalobusha74228
Noxubee73317
Perry68726
Tunica63019
Greene62422
Jefferson Davis59617
Claiborne59216
Amite57615
Humphreys55219
Quitman5107
Benton50418
Kemper48018
Webster47714
Wilkinson40722
Jefferson38312
Choctaw3637
Franklin3635
Sharkey32917
Issaquena1214
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 256828

Reported Deaths: 3711
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson34214511
Mobile20299366
Madison13925150
Tuscaloosa13591156
Montgomery12659238
Shelby1095877
Baldwin9163137
Lee792566
Morgan710851
Etowah677467
Calhoun6695121
Marshall665757
Houston548239
DeKalb504738
Cullman472043
St. Clair451857
Limestone447546
Lauderdale436054
Elmore427564
Walker3818111
Talladega374457
Jackson350723
Colbert336443
Blount310043
Autauga287342
Franklin259734
Coffee254115
Dale242054
Dallas232932
Chilton230841
Russell22813
Covington227934
Escambia206131
Tallapoosa189191
Chambers185950
Pike162214
Clarke161819
Marion146136
Winston141924
Lawrence135336
Pickens127720
Geneva12638
Marengo125224
Bibb123938
Barbour120629
Butler118842
Randolph105922
Cherokee105524
Hale99732
Fayette96316
Clay93525
Washington93319
Henry8946
Monroe83811
Lowndes82129
Cleburne79914
Macon76522
Crenshaw72930
Conecuh72414
Lamar7138
Bullock70919
Perry6927
Wilcox64918
Sumter58922
Greene44218
Choctaw43519
Coosa3724
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