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'We've reached limits of sensible policy' to fight COVID-19. Now, we need cultural change.

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 12/8/2021 David Mastio, USA TODAY

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner who now serves on the board of Pfizer, shared a depressing thought Tuesday with USA TODAY's Editorial Board: COVID-19 might kill 80,000 to 100,000 Americans every year as it becomes a seasonal affliction.

"That's not a sustainable impact," he said, especially when combined with the tens of thousands of deaths caused by the flu every winter. "We're going to have to be more cautious around respiratory diseases in the wintertime."

That means a change "culturally," Gottlieb said.

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A change in culture is just what Gottlieb's conservative colleagues fear and are already attacking.

His potential culture changes include:

►Mask-wearing becoming a permanent requirement at "certain points of the year in certain settings."

►Home testing becoming a regular part of life.

HEPA filters installed throughout public settings.

►We might have to rethink public gatherings such as Christmas parties "crowding 40 people into a small room in a restaurant."

►More focus and pressure to be vaccinated, another issue that has already caused rebellion on the right.

"We've reached the limits of sensible policy," Gottlieb said.

That's a tough message to deliver to a nation yearning to move on from a pandemic that has reshaped our lives and the globe for almost two years.  But reality is on Gottlieb's side. 

While conservatives may fight vaccine mandates and other cultural changes to deal with the public health reality, there's no getting around the annual death toll.

Still, in Gottlieb's view, public health officials have not done themselves (or the rest of us) any favors with arbitrary pronouncements about COVID-19 defense measures and an opaque scientific process that leaves many Americans feeling skeptical about whether  those officials are out to protect our health or their own authority.

A pandemic is a time for science to take the lead in shaping our response, but the reality is, as COVID-19 becomes a permanent part of everyday life, we'll be fighting over the cultural changes Dr. Gottlieb foresees well into the future.

David Mastio is an opinion writer for USA TODAY. Follow him on Twitter @DavidMastio

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'We've reached limits of sensible policy' to fight COVID-19. Now, we need cultural change.



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