Thanksgiving gatherings should be safe with extra COVID-19 testing, former FDA chief says

By Dave Goldiner

The good news: America should be able to get together safely for the holidays. The bad news: Older relatives and the kids might have to get daily at-home COVID-19 tests to make it happen.

Former Food and Drug Administration chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb offered his mixed prediction Monday about the upcoming end-of-year holiday season with Thanksgiving just six weeks away.

“Certainly we will be (able to celebrate),” Gottlieb said. “Now have the tools available to create a much more protected safe setting for families to gather around the holidays.”

But Gottlieb laid out a scenario that certainly didn’t sound like the traditional Turkey Day with Grandma and Grandpa and all the little cousins you haven’t seen since before the pandemic hit.

“Some families will have to exercise more caution than others,” Gottlieb said. “If you’re bringing together (unvaccinated people) and older people who may be vulnerable despite vaccination ... using at-home testing is something that you could do effectively.”

Even one test before getting on the plane or hopping in the car might not be enough, he said. For relatives spending the long holiday weekend, they may want to consider undergoing daily at-home COVID-19 testing.

If you’re really concerned about that setting, do serial testing,” Gottlieb said. “Don’t just rely on one test result but test people over the course of two days.”

Even though Gottlieb’s remarks sounded a bit ominous, they are a far cry from the situation a year ago, when top public health experts were warning Americans to skip family gatherings.

Last year’s holidays wound up taking the blame for sparking the winter surge that remains the deadliest period of the pandemic for the U.S.

Gottlieb also gave a resounding thumbs up to the new pill to treat COVID-19 that drugmaker Merck unveiled in recent days.

The new drug is expected to be a game changer as clinical trials show the medication is extremely effective in preventing hospitalization and death among those who are already symptomatic with COVID-19.

“This is probably the most substantial effect that we’ve seen from an orally available drug in any respiratory pathogen,” Gottlieb said. “So it is quite profound.”

The trial data were particularly impressive because the subjects were all at high risk for bad outcomes from COVID-19, including many who are obese or have diabetes, Gottlieb said.

“This is a meaningful addition to our overall therapeutic toolbox against this disease,” he said

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