Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Friday that mandating social distancing of 6 feet throughout the coronavirus pandemic "has probably been the single costliest mitigation tactic."
Gottlieb's comments came the same day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated guidance essentially saying that 3 feet is adequate social distancing if masks are worn. The new guidelines mainly addressed schoolchildren.
What did Gottlieb say?
Speaking on CNBC's "Closing Bell," Gottlieb shockingly admitted the 6-foot social distancing requirement was not "based on clear science."
"The 6-foot distancing requirement has probably been the single costliest mitigation tactic we've employed in response to COVID," Gottlieb said.
"And it really wasn't based on clear science," he added. "We implemented it early on based on an assumption coronavirus was going to spread like influenza, and there had been some prior research that flu spread predominately through droplets, and if you stated 6 feet apart from people, it reduced droplet transmission."
However, Gottlieb explained scientists learned COVID-19 spreads "through aerosols — not just droplets."
"So, probably 6 feet isn't as effective as it would be if this was purely droplet transmission," Gottlieb said. "I think the fact that we've probably over-relied on a flu-based model caused us to under appreciate the role of aerosol transmission, and probably caused us to overestimate contaminated surfaces as a source of spread. It probably caused us to underestimate the utility of high-quality masks in reducing transmission. It probably caused us to overestimate the impact of distancing to 6 feet."
"We should have re-adjudicated this much earlier," Gottlieb admitted.
"This six-foot distancing requirement has probably been the single costliest mitigation tactic that we've employed… https://t.co/2EzSWhjt8J— CNBC's Closing Bell (@CNBC's Closing Bell)1616187934.0
What about the biggest mistake?
Gottlieb said on CBS' "Face the Nation" earlier this month the failure to mandate mask wearing at the beginning of the pandemic was "the single biggest mistake because it was the easiest intervention that we could have reached for early to prevent spread."
"I think this was a real failure to detect all of the asymptomatic spread. We overestimated the role of fomites, of contaminated surfaces in spreading this virus, because we weren't recognizing all the spread that was happening from asymptomatic individuals, because we weren't doing good tracking and tracing. We were using a flu-model to detect COVID spread and it wasn't applicable," Gottlieb explained.
"If we had recognized earlier all this spread through asymptomatic transmission and the fact that this is spreading not just through droplets but also aerosolization, enclosed environments, we probably would have recommended masks and high-quality masks much earlier," he continued. "So that was probably the single biggest mistake, largely because it was a single easiest intervention that we could have reached for early."