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Dr. Anthony Fauci on what Americans can do to limit pandemic’s harm

Dr. Anthony Fauci heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and is one of the top public health officials in the U.S. He’s helping to lead the national response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday, Fauci joined Judy Woodruff to discuss the crisis, including what we have learned from other countries, the status of testing for COVID-19 and how we can slow its spread.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    This has been a week when more cities and states have started far more comprehensive shutdowns, in a desperate bid to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in this country.

    I spoke yesterday with Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, and one of the nation's top public health officials.

    About that — I spoke to him about that and about how the country is faring when it comes to slowing the pandemic here.

    He joined us on our special, "Confronting Coronavirus," And we continued our conversation.

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, thank you very much for joining us.

    As we sit here middle of March, what is your biggest concern about this coronavirus pandemic?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Well, I mean, my biggest concern, I think, would be obvious, because we have seen its potential.

    We see what it did in China. We see what it has done in Korea, and we see what it's doing right now in European countries, particularly Italy and France.

    We have an escalation of cases in our own country right now. And my concern is — and I hope it goes from a concern to a realization that we're doing what we should be doing — is that we really need to take the recommendations and the guidelines of how to mitigate the spread of this very, very seriously.

    The situation of — are well-delineated in the guidelines about avoiding crowds, getting people who are vulnerable to essentially self-isolate. Don't go to bars. Don't go to restaurants. Don't go to places where there are crowds and gatherings, 10 people, at the most, if you want to do something socially.

    If we do that and do that, and we do that conscientiously, as inconvenient as that might be, we will go a long way to muting the ultimate effect of this.

    So, my concern is that maybe, in certain areas, certain people are not taking that seriously. Everyone has to take that seriously. And we particularly depend on the younger individuals, who may feel that they're invulnerable because they hear, appropriately, that the disease or the infection in young people is not nearly as severe as if you're an elderly person or person who has an underlying condition.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I hear you say that, and yet you see pictures, video of people enjoying themselves at the beach in Florida, and perhaps other places.

    What do you say to them?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    One of the things that stimulated me to make the statement about appealing and pleading to the younger generation is that I see those pictures of people frolicking around at a bar.

    And we know it's spring break in many cases. You're young. You feel you're invulnerable. You want to have a good time. I get that. I was young at one time, and I enjoyed doing that.

    But this is — this is a very unique situation we are in. You can almost make it analogous to what was happening in a war, when everyone was called upon…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Anthony Fauci:

    … to just step to the plate and do something extraordinary.

    It isn't business as usual. We cannot treat this as business as usual.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Speaking of spring break, there has been conflicting advice to Americans this week in different states about whether schools should be closed or open, day care centers.

    What is your best advice on that right now?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    You know, it really varies from location to location.

    And you want to listen to the local — state and local health authorities. But you also would hope that they are looking at the guidelines that are coming from the federal level, because they are only guidelines. They say you should. They don't say you must.

    But they should at least be looked at. So, clearly, in certain circumstances, particularly in areas where there's community spread, the schools should be closed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dr. Fauci, Reuters is reporting today that the first cases of COVID-19 reported in the United States and South Korea on the same day, January the 20th.

    But, in South Korea, they moved very quickly. They had testing made available, manufactured, made available within days. They moved very quickly to identify who had COVID-19.

    The story in the United States has been a lot slower. It's — this country is still, as you have said, not ready with tests everywhere they're needed.

    What has gone wrong here, not just with testing, but with all the equipment and the preparation and the social distancing that didn't get implemented until the last few days?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    To be fair, I don't think that something has gone wrong.

    Obviously, nothing was perfect. With regard to the testing, we have gone over that over and over again, about, initially, the system that we use for testing from the CDC developing a test…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Anthony Fauci:

    … getting it to the public health authorities, was not designed for the broad type of high-throughput testing that goes out to the country.

    We are now really in that arena now. Let's look forward, as opposed to back. That's working.

    But the other things we're doing, I think that we are actually being and have been quite aggressive. I mean, whenever you have an outbreak, if you look at the history of outbreaks, it's a little bit like the fog of war.

    I mean, people try to do the right thing. And, sometimes, they get it right, right from the beginning. Sometimes, they correct and really go. I would think, where we are right now, in a good place. It isn't perfect, by any means.

    We still have to get more equipment. And we're doing something to get more equipment. We still need to make sure that testing is much more available, but it's getting there really rapidly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last thing, Dr. Fauci.

    I know you have been very reluctant to predict how long this is going to be with us. But I do get the question. I had somebody say, is there a danger this is going to be like the — frankly, the Black Plague, something from the 14th century, which was there, but it came back again and again for years?

    What do we know about that?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    We don't know, Judy, because this is unprecedented. But you can kind of project and surmise from experience with different infections that we have been confronted, with both in our own lifetime and historically.

    The goal right now, as I have said very often, if you leave the virus to its own devices, it will go way up, and then come way down, the way it did in China.

    If you try to mute it, make it be much less of an impact, you won't completely eradicate it. I hope we do and get rid of it, the way we did SARS. It's unlikely, given the efficiency with which this spreads, that that's going to happen.

    I can't guarantee. So, what might happen is that it may go under the radar screen for a while, and then as we get into the next winter season, late fall, winter, it may come back.

    I mean, we'd be unrealistic to think that that's not at least a possibility. But it would be different then, because, by then, hopefully, we will have been better prepared to respond in a public health way, number one.

    Number two, we will have already tested several drugs, some of which hopefully might be effective, and we'd be much, much closer to a vaccine, which, as you know, I have said many times, might be ready for deployment between a year and a year-and-a-half.

    So it's conceivable that it will cycle and come back. But when it does, we'd be much, much, much in a different position than we are right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, we thank you very much.

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Good to be with you.

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