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Former head of FDA says 6 ft. distancing rule was ‘arbitrary’: ‘Nobody knows where it came from’

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If you get the sense that the so-called “experts” are making it all up when it comes to the pandemic, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Scott Gottlieb is only going to reinforce that notion.

Gottlieb, who is plugging a new book, “Uncontrolled Spread: Why COVID-19 Crushed Us and How We Can Defeat the Next Pandemic,” appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation” and said the 6 ft. social distancing requirement recommended by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention was “arbitrary.”

“The six feet rule was arbitrary in and of itself,” Gottlieb said. “Nobody knows where it came from. Most people assume that the six feet of distance, the recommendation for keeping six feet apart, comes out of some old studies related to flu, where droplets don’t travel more than six feet. We now know COVID spreads through aerosols. We’ve known that for a while, so how operative is that?”

He said the six-foot rule “is a perfect example of sort of the lack of rigor around how CDC made recommendations.”

Gottlieb also said it was “the single reason why most schools remained shut.”

“If CDC had said you have to keep kids three feet apart, then a lot of schools would have been able to open,” he added. “In fact, when the Biden administration wanted to open schools in the spring, this past spring, they got the CDC to change that guidance from six feet to three feet.”

(Video: CBS News)

But it gets even more interesting, as the former FDA director explained.

“The initial recommendation that the CDC brought to the White House, and I talk about this, was 10 feet,” he said. “And a political appointee in the White House said, we can’t recommend 10 feet. Nobody can measure 10 feet. It’s inoperable. Society will shut down. So the compromise was around six feet.”

“Now imagine if that detail had leaked out. Everyone would have said, ‘This is the White House politically interfering with the CDC’s judgment.’ The CDC said 10 feet, it should be 10 feet, but 10 feet was no more right than six feet and ultimately became three feet,” Gottlieb said.

Earlier in the interview, Gottlieb essentially said Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was among the first to get it right, though he didn’t mention the Republican by name while discussing different policy approaches seen regionally.

“Certainly Florida made certain decisions. I mean, the governor kept schools open, and a lot of people believe he made a good decision,” he said. “He ignored the advice on six feet of distancing — probably the single costliest recommendation that CDC made that you had to maintain six feet of distance that wasn’t based on good judgment and good science was ultimately changed. And so he said we’re only going to maintain three feet, which is where the CDC is now, and was able to keep schools open.”

The former Trump official said the decision to try to keep kids in school “was the right decision,” but hit DeSantis over the decision “to let the virus spread the way it has and not even employ mitigation in the school as they’re doing now.”

The biggest mitigating factor Gottlieb fell back on was the wearing of masks, of which the science is spotty at best.

“People weren’t wearing masks. They weren’t encouraged to wear masks,” he said. “Vaccination was encouraged for the elderly population, but not widely.”

Saying that vaccines are “saving lives,” DeSantis did urge the public to get vaccinated, and he never banned masks. He did stand up for a parent’s right to make the decision on whether their children will wear masks for 7-8 hours a day.

As for the public’s diminished trust in the experts, Gottlieb said, “The public health establishment as a whole has taken a hit in the setting of this pandemic, and this is not just a sort of Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal thing.”

He also said the origins of COVID-19 may never be discovered.

“Either we find the intermediate host — the animal that spread COVID — or there’s a whistleblower inside China. Or someone close to this, who knows that this came out of a lab, comes forward, defects, goes overseas, or we intercept some communication that we shouldn’t have had access to. Absent something like that, we’re not going to be able to answer this question,” Gottlieb said.

Tom Tillison

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