The U.S. needs a “reset” on moving to the next phase of reopening to get areas of the U.S. where cases are spiking under control, says Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.
Americans can successfully reboot efforts to contain the coronavirus if everyone wears face masks and steers clear of crowds, and if places like bars close, Fauci told the PBS NewsHour managing editor and anchor Judy Woodruff.
“I think if we do that, for a couple of weeks in a row… I think we’re going to see a turnaround because we know that that works,” Fauci said.
U.S. cases and deaths tied to the virus continue to grow as states reopen their economies. Some states in recent weeks have had to scale back reopening plans as cases and deaths surged. The United States has drawn criticism for the way it has handled the pandemic. It’s now the world’s epicenter for the virus with roughly a quarter of all global deaths and more than 3.6 million confirmed cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The country has seen mixed messages from the White House about best practices for containing the virus and reopening the economy, including President Donald Trump and other top officials often choosing not to wear a mask, even as public health officials like Fauci have stressed their importance.
This week, Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp sued Democratic Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms after she mandated that residents of her city wear face masks to prevent further spread of the virus. That same day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged the public to wear face masks as a protective measure. In Florida, which has seen cases soar and ICU beds fill to capacity, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has resisted a broader mask mandate, although he said in a news conference Friday that he would not override counties across the state that have chosen to do so.
In his NewsHour interview, Fauci said “we have a problem and we have to admit it and own it,” saying he was optimistic the country could still turn growing case numbers around. He also stressed the importance of making sure “the dots are connected” on getting testing supplies to the places that need them most. Here are other highlights from the interview.
The relationship between Fauci and the White House
This week, public comments made by members of the Trump administration were viewed as attempts to undermine, if not discredit, Fauci, who has led the U.S. response during the COVID-19 pandemic.
More recently, on July 14, USA Today published an op-ed written by White House trade adviser Peter Navarro that attacked Fauci, saying Fauci “has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.”
Public outcry arose, and the newspaper later updated the piece online, saying Navarro’s claims were “were misleading or lacked context” and failed to meet fact-checking standards. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows reprimanded Navarro, but in a Fox News interview, Meadows said Fauci is wrong to compare novel coronavirus to the 1918 influenza pandemic. Fauci on Friday said that he believes the disagreement was borne out of a misunderstanding.
For months, questions have persisted about whether the White House has interfered with Fauci’s ability to address the realities of the pandemic and the appropriate federal response publicly, including through limiting his television interviews. But when asked if he believed he had the full backing of President Donald Trump, Fauci said, “I do. I do. I believe I do.”
Parents, educators and communities across the country are uncertain about how schools can safely reopen this fall amid a pandemic. The American Academy of Pediatrics released guidance urging that schools consider doing so, along with detailed guidance about what measures are needed in order to reopen.
The White House has pointed to that guidance when it has saids all schools must open with students, teachers and staff meeting in person full-time.
“We don’t think our children should be locked up at home with devastating consequences when it’s perfectly safe for them to go to school,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a news conference Thursday.
Several districts, cities and states already said they will not force schools to reopen in person, especially when tens of thousands of Americans are getting infected each day with the virus. Many more are waiting to make announcements about reopening either way. On Friday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said most of his state’s schools won’t meet in person this fall.
Fauci said schools and communities must assess the local threat of viral infections and develop plans that account for how to safely educate children, saying, “You should try to the best of your ability with all considerations for the safety and welfare of the teachers, we should try to get our children back to school as best as we possibly can.”
When will a vaccine be available?
Responding to criticism from Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier that public officials were feeding Americans false hope that a vaccine could be ready in months, Fauci said that the response to developing a vaccine for the novel coronavirus has moved incredibly fast.
Efforts to develop a vaccine were underway days after researchers received its genetic sequence, Fauci said. And in more than 60 days, Fauci said the U.S. had completed the first phase of clinical trials for a possible vaccine — a step in a long series of processes that could generate a successful means of stopping the virus.
“When you’re dealing with vaccines, you can’t guarantee things, but you can say, based on the science and the way things are going, that I’m cautiously optimistic that we can meet that projection that we made, that I made months ago,” Fauci said. “By the end of this calendar year, and the beginning of 2021, I feel optimistic — nobody guarantees — but I feel optimistic that we will have a vaccine, one or more,that we can start distributing to people.”