CEO behind Buffett, Bezos health venture says US ‘death toll curve’ worse than China


Atul Gawande

Lisa Lake | Getty Images

The CEO behind the joint health-care venture between J.P. Morgan, Amazon and Berkshire Hathaway is calling for a national “shelter-in-place” order as deaths from the coronavirus continue to rise in the United States.

“Our death toll curve is now worse than when China was at the same stage,” Haven CEO Dr. Atul Gawande said Friday in an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “We have 12 states with more than 1,500 cases. China had one province,” said Gawande, also a renowned surgeon, author and speaker.

Gawande said health officials are learning from Washington state, where the death toll there appears to be declining. “Shelter in place, which some states are doing,” he said. “We don’t have the others on board. We really need a national shelter in place.”

The United States now has more COVID-19 cases than Italy and China, making the U.S. the largest outbreak in the world. The total number of cases in the U.S. reached 85,996 as of Friday morning, including 1,300 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.  

U.S. health officials are working to contain the outbreak. President Donald Trump has imposed bans on travel to much of Europe and Asia. Roughly half the nation is under some sort of quarantine for the foreseeable future. The U.S. outbreak is accelerating, with hot spots in California, Washington state and New York state, which has more than half of the U.S. cases.

On Tuesday, the White House advised anyone who lives in or travels through New York to self-isolate for two weeks and monitor their symptoms if they leave the area.

Gawande said Friday that the U.S. must prioritize health-care workers, some of whom are running out of masks and other needed medical supplies. In Boston, there are more than 100 health-care workers who have tested positive for the virus after picking it up in the community, he said.

“If you have masks, get them into your hospitals,” he said, adding the next couple of weeks are “not going to be looking great.”

Gawande was selected in June 2018 as CEO of the joint health-care venture between J.P. Morgan, Amazon and Berkshire Hathaway called Haven. CEOs Jamie Dimon, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett had announced earlier that year that they would form a new company aimed at lowering health-care costs for their employees.


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