Former FDA commissioner warns of possible 'explosive spread' of COVID-19 as states set to reopen businesses

Former FDA commissioner warns of possible 'explosive spread' of COVID-19 as states set to reopen businesses
For the third time in the last week, hundreds of protesters gathered at the Ohio State House to protest the stay home order that is in effect until May 1st. MEGAN JELINGER/AFP via Getty Images
  • Dr. Margaret Hamburg, who served as the FDA commissioner from 2009 to 2015, warned of the potential for an "explosive spread" of COVID-19 in areas preparing to relax social distancing orders.
  • Leaders in states like South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Ohio have announced plans to begin scaling back social distancing orders.
  • Protesters around the country have called on leaders to re-open businesses closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
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As states are beginning the process of relaxing state-ordered social distancing and business closures, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration warned some of the states have not yet shown signs they are ready to do so.

"I am surprised," Dr. Margaret Hamburg, who served as commissioner of the FDA from 2009 to 2015, told NBC's Savannah Guthrie on "Today." "Some of these places are not even meeting the minimum threshold criteria that was put out in the Trump White House Coronavirus Task Force Guidance. I'm worried that we don't know enough about how the virus has penetrated these communities and their states."

She added: "We don't know about the possibility for explosive spread of the virus as people go back into these social gathering settings: the workplace, schools, whatever."

Hamburg went on to say she hoped state leaders would "think carefully" moving forward, arguing they need to move more slowly and with more "adequate testing capability to identify those who are infected."

"We have been behind where we should be in terms of testing and that has made it really hard for us to even fully understand nature/scope of this epidemic," she said.


Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has said businesses including salons, gyms, and bowling alleys will be able to open Friday, followed by movie theaters and restaurants.

This week, Georgia reported 94 additional COVID-19 deaths and 1,242 new coronavirus infections, WJXT reported.

President Trump last week announced the White House's three-phase plan to guide state leaders into choosing when to re-open industries that have been shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a previous Business Insider report, states were guided to meet a host of criteria before relaxing guidelines:

  • Symptoms of COVID-19, as well as symptoms of influenza-like illnesses, in decline for 14 days.
  • A downward trajectory of cases within a two-week period, or a decrease in the percentage of positive tests within the period.
  • Hospitals must be treating all patients without crisis care and have a "robust" testing process available for vulnerable workers.

"I'm perplexed that we have opened up in this way," Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Monday night during an appearance on CNN.

She added: "And, again, I can't stress enough, I work very well with our governor, and I look forward to having a better understanding of what this reasoning is, but as I look at the data and as I talk with our public health officials, I don't see that it's based on anything that is logical."


Protests have emerged around the nation, as state residents demand their leaders re-open businesses that have been shuttered by the novel coronavirus, which has infected at least 788,920 people in the US and killed 42,458.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said Monday he would not extend his "safer-at-home" order, which expires on April 30. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine plans to allow many businesses in the state to open when his stay-at-home order expires, on May 1. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said Monday department stores other businesses, like flower shops, previously deemed nonessential would be allowed to reopen Tuesday. Beaches in the state were also allowed to re-open on Tuesday.

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