Biden adviser walks back earlier proposal calling for lockdown

"I've never discussed this with any of them," he said of Biden team.

November 13, 2020, 12:08 AM

Dr. Michael Osterholm, an adviser to President-elect Joe Biden, said in a phone interview late Thursday that he has not discussed with the incoming administration his earlier proposal to lock down the country for several weeks to try to curb a rising tide of coronavirus cases.

“I’ve never discussed any of this with them,” Osterholm told ABC News.

He also said he doesn’t think there’s a national consensus for it anyway.

“Nobody’s going to support it. It’s not going to be supported out of the administration. It’s not going to be supported in Congress," Osterholm said.

Osterholm raised eyebrows this week after accepting a role on the Biden team and then referring to his August lockdown proposal in an interview in Yahoo Finance Live online.

In an Aug. 7 op-ed in the New York Times, Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, and Nel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, argued that if the government paid people for lost wages, the nation could lock down to the stop the spread of the virus and spare the economy greater pain.

“We could pay for a package right now to cover all of the lost wages for individual workers, for losses to small companies, to medium-sized companies or city, state, county governments. We could do all of that,” he told Yahoo Finance Live of his August proposal. “If we did that, then we could lock down for four to six weeks and if we did that, we could drive the numbers down.”

The comments raised questions about whether Biden's team was seriously considering the idea because Osterholm was announced earlier in the week as joining Biden's 13-member COVID-19 advisory team.

When asked about Osterholm's comments, Biden's communications director Kate Bedingfield told CNN's Jake Tapper that Biden is focused on the plan he laid out during the campaign, which called for encouraging mask mandates nationwide and boosting testing.

PHOTO: Dr. Michael Osterholm announces for COVID-19 testing, Minnesota, April 22, 2020.
Dr. Michael Osterholm, Regents Professor, McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health, and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota announces for COVID-19 testing, Minnesota, April 22, 2020.
Stubbe, Glen/AP, FILE

"He's going to be informed by the best expertise and public health expertise out there," she said, adding that he's "going to move forward on the plans he laid out in the campaign."

In a brief interview later that night, Osterholm said his comments to Yahoo Finance Live on his August lockdown proposal shouldn’t have been interpreted as representing the Biden team.

But, he added, the problem is growing and that he still thinks there should be a way to compensate businesses and workers disproportionately hit by economic losses, he said.

“We will get well north of 200,000 cases a day even more … and we’re still doing to have to figure out what we’re going to do here,” he said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, has said the country wouldn't tolerate another lockdown and that it’s probably not necessary if the country is able to embrace other options like masks and avoiding social gatherings.

"If we can do the public health measures, we wouldn't have to do that," Fauci said on ABC's "Good Morning America" Thursday. "The best opposite strategy to locking down is to intensify the public health measures short of locking down. So if you can do that well, you don't have to take that step that people are trying to avoid, which has so many implications both psychologically and economically. We'd like not to do that."

Fauci also said "help is really on the way," referring to a vaccine.

"You know, if you think of it metaphorically -- the cavalry is coming here … if we could just hang in there, do the public health measures that we're talking about, we're going to get this under control, I promise you," Fauci said.

At a recent ABC News town hall before the election, Biden said he didn't think there would be a need for a lockdown, but said he would listen to science.

"You can contain the pandemic by being rational, and not crush the economy," Biden said. "You can open businesses and schools if, in fact, you provide them the guidance that they need, as well as the money to be able to do it."

ABC News' Molly Nagle and Jordyn Phelps contributed to this report.

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