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

Microsoft founder Bill Gates gives his take on the right measures the US needs to implement in order to reopen schools and his "best case" for the US economy.

Posted: Apr 28, 2020 2:01 PM
Updated: Apr 28, 2020 2:01 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."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 47432

Reported Deaths: 2687
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11546683
Lake5104242
Elkhart321144
Allen2737129
St. Joseph190866
Cass16389
Hamilton1538100
Hendricks1390100
Johnson1256118
Porter72037
Tippecanoe6948
Madison65564
Clark64044
Bartholomew58244
Howard56557
LaPorte56326
Kosciusko5354
Vanderburgh5026
Marshall4823
Jackson4693
Noble46928
LaGrange4677
Hancock44035
Boone43743
Delaware43150
Shelby42325
Floyd37144
Morgan32731
Montgomery29320
Grant29126
Clinton2882
Monroe27628
Dubois2666
White26010
Henry25815
Decatur24932
Lawrence24225
Vigo2318
Dearborn22823
Harrison21222
Warrick21229
Greene18532
Miami1822
Jennings17411
Putnam1688
DeKalb1604
Scott1607
Daviess14216
Orange13623
Wayne1366
Steuben1282
Perry1279
Franklin1248
Ripley1157
Jasper1142
Wabash1122
Carroll1102
Fayette987
Newton9810
Starke923
Whitley905
Randolph784
Huntington742
Jefferson722
Wells711
Fulton691
Jay680
Washington681
Gibson672
Knox640
Pulaski641
Clay604
Rush563
Adams501
Benton480
Owen471
Sullivan441
Brown381
Posey380
Blackford372
Spencer371
Crawford300
Fountain302
Tipton301
Switzerland260
Martin220
Parke220
Ohio140
Vermillion140
Warren141
Union130
Pike100
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 56183

Reported Deaths: 2907
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin10023420
Cuyahoga7571372
Hamilton5770197
Marion273038
Lucas2700302
Pickaway218841
Summit2110206
Montgomery193126
Mahoning1818231
Butler154744
Columbiana129560
Stark1091112
Lorain99767
Trumbull92565
Warren82321
Clark7659
Delaware55315
Belmont54422
Fairfield54316
Tuscarawas54110
Medina50832
Lake49218
Licking46612
Miami45531
Portage43258
Ashtabula43144
Wood41251
Geauga40042
Clermont3946
Wayne36051
Richland3325
Allen30840
Mercer2808
Greene2489
Darke24625
Erie23622
Holmes2263
Huron2112
Madison1938
Ottawa14323
Crawford1355
Washington13120
Putnam12715
Sandusky12714
Hardin12012
Ross1183
Morrow1161
Auglaize1064
Coshocton942
Monroe8817
Jefferson872
Union821
Muskingum811
Hancock781
Hocking788
Preble731
Williams692
Clinton680
Guernsey683
Lawrence680
Shelby654
Fulton610
Ashland581
Carroll583
Logan581
Wyandot586
Brown561
Defiance503
Athens491
Knox481
Fayette460
Highland441
Champaign391
Scioto380
Van Wert340
Seneca332
Perry321
Henry290
Adams231
Paulding230
Pike230
Jackson220
Vinton222
Gallia161
Harrison121
Meigs120
Morgan110
Noble110
Unassigned00
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