Thaddeus Swanek Thaddeus Swanek
Senior Writer and Editor, Strategic Communications, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


December 02, 2020


Fill me in:

This week’s Path Forward featured U.S. Chamber President Suzanne Clark talking with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield about progress in combating the coronavirus pandemic. The conversation focused on mitigation measures, progress on vaccines and therapeutics, and school and business closures.

Path Forward is a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation event series designed to help business and community leaders find the answers they need to execute a responsible reopening strategy and plan for a post-pandemic world.

What happened?

Dr. Redfield focused on several major themes during the question-and-answer interview:

  • The seriousness of this stage of the pandemic.
  • The vital importance of mitigating measures like wearing masks and social distancing.
  • The tremendous progress that has been made on therapeutics (treatment drugs) and vaccines.
  • Why it’s not necessary to have blanket closures of schools or businesses, but to base decisions on data.
  • The need to strengthen the public health system to face future pandemics.

Key quotes from Dr. Redfield:

On the seriousness of the pandemic:

“We have a very serious pandemic now throughout the nation… Four million cases were reported in November… Now, there are over 90,000 people in our hospitals.”

“I do think unfortunately, before we see February, we could be close to 450,000 Americans dead from this virus.”

“The reality is December, January, and February are going to be rough times. I actually believe they are going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”

On masks and other mitigating measures:

“Mitigation works, if we embrace it. It’s not going to work if half of us do what we need to do, or probably if three-quarters of us do. This virus is going to require all of us to be vigilant.”

“The time for debating whether or not masks work or not is over. We clearly have scientific evidence... Those counties that opted in [to the Kansas mask mandate], had about a 6% decrease in new cases per 100,000. Of the counties that opted out of the mask mandate, we found out they had over a 100% increase in cases.”

“You couple that [mask wearing] with social distancing, hand washing, being smart about crowds, doing things more outside than inside. These are critical mitigation steps which to many people seem simple and they don’t think they could have much of an impact. The reality is they are very powerful tools, they have an enormous impact.”

“Mask wearing is not a political decision — it’s a public health tool. A very powerful public health tool. Very simple, but very powerful.”

On transmission of the virus:

“One of the major drivers of transmission is not the public square, it’s actually home gatherings where people let down their guard. You bring in family members. They don’t realize that the major presentation of this virus for individuals—say under the age or 40—is totally asymptomatic. You don’t know you’re infected.”

On keeping businesses and schools open:

“We have substantial data that shows that schools, face-to-face learning, can be conducted in K-12—particularly in elementary and middle schools—in a safe and responsible way… We’re not seeing cluster infections within schools in any significant way… We have not found schools to be a major source of transmission.”

“The answer to controlling the COVID pandemic is not necessarily closure. Whether it’s schools or businesses, etc. There may be some strategic closures that make sense.”

“I don’t think we benefit at all in our nation in controlling COVID by broadly shutting down businesses. Clearly, if schools and airlines can learn how to do this safely and responsibly — businesses can learn how to do this safely and responsibly.”

“We should use data to define when we’ve defined an industry that poses a unique risk that may require some type of restrictions.”

On vaccines and treatment:

“We have four vaccines now that are deep into Phase III trials. It’s very probable before February, we’ll have three to four vaccines approved in the U.S… And I think we’ll have two of them approved before the first of the year.”

“I do believe the vaccine will start to be delivered to the American public this month.”

“It’s [coronavirus vaccine] going to be constrained in supply. Ultimately, there will be enough vaccine for everybody in the U.S. that wants to get a vaccine, to get a vaccine… I believe that will be somewhere in the second/third quarter of 2021.”

On the need for public health funding:

“This nation was severely underprepared for this pandemic… It’s time for this nation to have the public health system that not only we need, but we deserve.”

Our take:

It’s vital that Americans get their flu shot, if they haven’t done so already. They’re safe, affordable, and widely available – usually at no cost for those with health insurance.

And don’t forget — wearing a mask and social distancing do make a big difference.

What’s next:

Join future Path Forward events to learn how to better protect you workers, customers, coworkers and friends from the spread of coronavirus.

Additional Resources

About the authors

Thaddeus Swanek

Thaddeus Swanek

Thaddeus is a senior writer and editor with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's strategic communications team.

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