Biden advisers differ on national coronavirus lockdown, 1 calls it 'measure of last resort'

The co-chair of President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force, former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, described lockdowns Sunday as "a measure of last resort," countering comments last week by another task force member.

"That’s a measure of last resort," Murthy said on "Fox News Sunday." "The way we think about lockdowns, I think, is different now than it was in the spring.  In the spring, when we didn’t know a lot about COVID, we responded in a sense with an on-off switch. We just shut things down because we didn’t know exactly how this was spreading and where it was spreading."

"We've learned a lot more since then that tells us that the better way to think about the safety restrictions is more as a dial that we turn up and down depending on severity."

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 11: Dr. Vivek Murthy, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States, poses for a portrait in the offices of the Harvard Business Review in Boston on Jan. 11, 2018. (Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

"We’ve got to approach this with the precision of a scalpel, rather than the blunt force of an ax," he added.

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Murthy’s comments come after Dr. Michael Osterholm, another Biden adviser, floated the idea of another four- to six-week nationwide lockdown should COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the county as they have over the past several weeks.

Osterholm has since walked backed the proposal, saying he had not yet spoken to the incoming administration.

"We are in ... the most dangerous public health period since 1918," he told "Meet the Press" on Sunday. "If we don’t take important steps like stop swapping air with our neighbors, our friends, our colleagues, we’re going to see [coronavirus case] numbers grow substantially."

"My worst fear is what we saw happen in other countries, where people were dying on the streets," Osterholm continued. "That’s going to start happening, the media will start reporting it and we will see the breadth and the depth of this tragedy."

(Photo illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

​​Murthy also discussed coronavirus vaccine allocation as the nation's hopes turn toward the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

"The campaign we’re going to have to build to vaccinate enough people to create herd immunity in America will be the most ambitious vaccination campaign, I believe, in our country’s history, and doing that requires people to trust that that vaccine is safe and that it's effective," Murthy said. "Unfortunately, we know from recent polls that a significant number of people are worried that the process of developing the vaccine and proving it may have been politicized, so now the onus is on us to be as transparent as possible."

Biden campaigned as a more responsible steward of America’s public health than President Trump is and has been blunt about the challenges that lie ahead for the country, warning of a “dark winter” as cases spike.

Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images

But talk of lockdowns is especially sensitive. For one, they’re nearly impossible for a president to enact on his own, requiring bipartisan support from state and local officials. But more broadly, they’re a political flashpoint that could undermine Biden’s efforts to unify a deeply divided country.

“It would create a backlash,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security who added that such a move could make the situation worse if people don’t comply with restrictions. “Lockdowns can have consequences that diminish the value of such an approach.”

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