By the end of the year, 30% of the US will have caught COVID-19, former FDA chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb says

  • Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, estimated Monday that 30% of Americans will have caught COVID-19 by the end of the year.
  • Gottlieb, who has previously said just one in five cases are diagnosed, said the figure could reach 50% in some states, such as North Dakota and South Dakota.
  • "We're going to probably have by the end of this year, 30% of the US population infected," Gottlieb told CNBC's "Squawk Box."
  • The high number of cases in 2020 could help limit the spread of the virus at the start of 2021 when people start to get vaccinated, he said.
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Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb on Monday estimated that by the end of the year, 30% of Americans would have been infected with COVID-19.

The figure may be as high as 50% in some states, he told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Monday. 

"We're going to probably have by the end of this year, 30% of the US population infected," Gottlieb said.

"You look at states like North Dakota and South Dakota, it's probably 30%, 35%. Maybe as high as 50%."

As of Tuesday, the coronavirus has infected more than 13.6 million Americans and killed over 268,000, according to the New York Times COVID-19 tracker. 

This would suggest that, so far, around 4% of the population has been infected. However, Gottlieb has previously suggested that the virus is under-diagnosed because not everyone who catches it is tested. In November, he said he thought that just one in five cases were being diagnosed.

The high number of coronavirus cases this year could help limit the spread of COVID-19 early next year, Gottlieb told CNBC Monday, especially after vaccinations begin.

"You combine a lot of infection around the country with vaccinating 20% of the population [and] you're getting to levels where this virus is not going to circulate as readily, once you get to those levels of prior immunity," Gottlieb said.

Previous studies show that herd immunity — when immunity in a group protects it against a virus by slowing the spread — may be achieved when around 70% of a community is immune, either through a vaccine or prior infection.

More than a dozen scientists told The New York Times in August this percentage could be lower, at just 50%.

Experts fear that Thanksgiving celebrations could have contributed to a spike in cases. Americans who met with anyone they don't live with over Thanksgiving should assume they have COVID-19 and get tested, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, Dr. Deborah Birx, said Sunday.

Read more: The CEOs of Life Time Fitness, Self Esteem Brands, and Retro Fitness defend keeping gyms open as coronavirus cases climb

In a CNBC interview on November 12, Gottlieb urged Americans to "to find excuses not to go out" over the next few months to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the US. 

"I do believe 2021 is going to be better," he added. "We have to get through the next two or three months, and so this is going to be, really, a temporary pain."

Both Pfizer and Moderna have applied for emergency use authorization for their vaccines from the FDA. 

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