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Executive Chat - November 2020

Public Health Expert Dr. Michael Osterholm Speaks to Restaurant Finance Week on COVID Business Intelligence

By Rebecca Patt, SVP Development, Wray Executive Search

Dr. Michael Osterholm, newly appointed to President-Elect Biden’s Coronavirus task force and one of the world’s leading epidemiologists, spoke about COVID-19 Business Intelligence with Restaurant Finance Monitor’s Mary Jo Larson during Restaurant Finance Week last week. Here are five top takeaways:

  1. COVID-19 cases have risen five-fold in the last eight weeks to 134,000 per day. Dr. Osterholm believes we are on track to reach 200k cases per day in the coming weeks. He cites the reason for the increase as people spending more time inside with the cooling weather, plus pandemic fatigue and “pandemic anger” causing less adherence to public health messaging. “These cases are not only numbers: they are our family members, colleagues, and friends,” he said. Intensive care and hospitals overwhelmed. Health care workers are completely overwhelmed and exhausted. The pandemic response has largely been left in the hands of state governors.

  1. Osterholm estimates a vaccine could be introduced “early to late winter,” and it may take until 2023 to produce a global supply. Much still needs to be learned about the efficacy and safety of the Pfizer vaccine that was announced last week. He pointed out the challenges of vaccine distribution and that the vaccine will probably require booster shots. He said it is unknown if immunized people could still be infectious. People who are infected with COVID, symptomatic or not, become contagious in the first five days. Illness is likely to occur in the first eight days, then one is likely contagious for another eight days.

  1. Osterholm suggests the strategy that has helped to keep the virus under control in parts of Asia, New Zealand, and Australia: short but intensive lockdowns with extensive contact tracing and testing. On mitigating the economic disruption of lockdowns, he said that the US government has access to money at historically low interest rates and could reimburse individuals and businesses through additional economic stimulus and take measures to help keep local and state governments, education systems, and hospitals whole. “We could actually find ourselves bringing back everyday life much sooner” as a result, he said. “You don’t have a healthy economy if these cases are running willy-nilly... The Asian have learned if you do suppress and control this virus, the economy comes back.”

  1. Osterholm calls for an “FDR-like moment” where leadership anticipates what is happening and is transparent with the public about the facts of it and the strategy to address it, providing empathy, support, and creative solutions to minimize the impact.

  1. On masks and social distancing: Dr. Osterholm said that physical distancing is the most important way to avoid transmission of the contagion. He pointed out that masks vary greatly in efficacy: N-95 respirators are highly effective. Surgical masks are less effective. Cloth face coverings are variable in efficacy, depending on the fit and the type of material.

Rebecca can be reached at

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