Bill Gates says mass shutdowns are needed to stop coronavirus spread

Bill Gates predicted coronavirus cases in the U.S. won’t peak until at least late-April — and warned that ending shutdowns early could be disastrous.

“It’s exponential growth if you’re not stopping it,” Gates said in an interview on CNN Thursday. “The sooner you engage in the shutdown, the easier it is to get to that peak. We have not peaked.”

States across the country have urged people to stay inside and engage in social distancing to reduce the spread of the deadly disease, officially known as COVID-19.

“Never in my lifetime have we had to change our behavior and have this drastic effect on the economy in order to save lives,” Gates said.

Gates pushed for more shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders, even in states with relatively small numbers of confirmed cases. The billionaire philanthropist said infected travelers from states that didn’t aggressively shut down could reignite outbreaks in states that did.

“The whole country has to be in this together,” he said.

Cases continue to skyrocket and health care systems in cities like New York are being overwhelmed by patients.

The Microsoft co-founder said that could have been avoided had the U.S. prepared a response months ago and aggressively tested for new coronavirus cases, isolating and tracing contacts of the infected. But Gates said a lack of testing made that outcome impossible.

“We’re quite blind to a lot of these cases right now,” Gates said. “The light is not at the end of the tunnel in terms of a mid-April reopening.”

In the interview, Gates also indirectly pushed back at President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly said he wants the shutdown orders lifted in two weeks to lessen the economic impact. Gates called that timeline “not realistic.”

“The numbers are still going up,” he said. Shutdowns should only be lifted once cases drop significantly, he added.

Progress toward the treatment of the disease is being made, Gates said. A “therapeutics accelerator” at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is looking at “promising compounds” that could be used to treat the coronavirus, but a potential vaccine is still months away.

In the meantime, a “middle course” option of a temporary shutdown isn’t feasible, Gates warned.

“The sooner we take this medicine, which is tough medicine, the sooner we’ll be out of it and not have to go back into it again,” he said.

For the latest updates on the novel coronavirus outbreak, visit the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 page.

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