The American death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic passed the 100,000 milestone on Wednesday. Dr. Anthony Fauci is one of the country's leading public health officials and a key member of President Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the country’s “terrible ordeal,” how we can contain the virus moving forward and why he is cautiously optimistic about a vaccine.
As we said, the U.S. has just passed a grim milestone in the number of deaths.
I had a chance to talk about this, where we stand in the battle against COVID, and how to reopen safely with Dr. Anthony Fauci. He is one of the leading public health voices in the country and a key member of the president's pandemic task force.
Dr. Tony Fauci, thank you for joining us. We welcome you.
As the United States today nears 100,000 deaths, that terrible toll, what are your thoughts about that?
Well, obviously, we have been put through a very terrible ordeal, in many respects, that's historic, Judy.
But I look forward about the kinds of things that we can do, you know, to contain this, both from a public health standpoint and marshaling all of the resources of science that we have.
So, we're in a situation. We have been through a lot. Things will, I believe, improve, as we start to see the diminution in cases in many areas, although, disturbingly, there are still some areas in which cases are going up.
I think, if we continue to pull together as a nation, doing the kinds of things to mitigate the spread, as well as, at the same time, as we try to gradually and prudently try to reopen the country to a little bit more normality — we have taken a terrible hit; 100,000 people is just really historic in the public health impact it's had on us.
But, you know, it's a challenge. And this country, as I say often, has been through some really challenging, terrible times, you know, World Wars, depressions, 9/11. This falls in that category. You know, we have got to pull together as a nation to get over this.
You mentioned opening up, and parts of the country are opening up fast. I mean, the state of Georgia opened, what, over three weeks ago, other states opening up all over the country.
Is it necessarily the case that we are going to see outbreaks where there have been moves to open up quickly?
Well, first of all, there's a wide range of how individual states, cities and counties have opened up.
For those who have opened up in a way that has been strictly according to the guidelines of the gateway, the phase one, the phase two, even at that approach, there are going to be cases that you're going to see blips.
That's inevitable, and people should not be surprised at that. The real critical issue, Judy, is how you respond to that, how you can have the resources in place to be able to identify, isolate, contact trace, so a blip doesn't become a surge.
For those who have actually gone and leaped over a couple of the benchmarks that they needed to pass I mean, obviously, I have said and I continue to say that we need to be prudent and careful and not to, in the sense, go prematurely into an area where we should wait a little bit more.
But for those that have already done it — and we have seen it on television — my advice is, there are certain fundamental, basic things that, no matter what stage you're at, you need to do it. And that's things like wearing masks, staying physically distant…
… avoiding crowds, washing hands. Those are things you should do no matter what.
And my question is, in those places that have opened up, is it going to be enough to wash hands, wear the mask, keep socially distanced?
Because we also are hearing if there is not testing available — you mentioned contact tracing, but testing. The administration this week said it's up to the states. As you know, Dr. Fauci, a number of experts say that's not enough; we need more of a national strategy.
Well, Judy, what's happening right now — and we were just at a meeting down at the White House yesterday, one of our meetings, where we went over with several of the governors the kinds of things that are in place. The testing is getting better and better and better.
I mean, I have always been publicly skeptical about that. But, right now, what I'm seeing is that the kinds of testing availability is getting better and better. And, as the weeks go by, I believe strongly that we're going to be able to address that.
But you make a very good point. When I see some of those pictures of how people are congregating, at a time when there are still infections around, that's not prudent, and that people need to really take a step back and look at that.
I mean, everybody wants to see us get back to some sort of normality. Everybody wants to open up the country, including an economic rebound. But we need to be really careful that we don't do it in a way that is, in some respects, stepping over the prudent steps.
So, that's the thing I keep advising, and I keep urging people to be really prudent about that.
So, you're saying it can be done, even though we're not going to have a vaccine until the end of this year, at the earliest?
I mean, even you have said it's possible. But you're saying, in the meantime, it is going to be safe for states to open up, as long as they do it carefully?
I do think so.
And I think what will happen — and I keep saying that — we do not necessarily have to have a major rebound or, as people say, a second wave, in the fall and in the winter. It will happen if we don't address it in an appropriate way, because we are going to see blips of cases coming up as we try to tiptoe towards normality.
My feeling is that, if we put all our efforts into that, we can prevent these blips from becoming a resurgence or a second wave.
And just to clarify on testing, administration is saying 300,000 tests a day is enough. And you're saying, that's going to — that's going to work?
No, no, I'm not, Judy.
What I'm saying is that the tests that are going to be available are going to go well beyond that. I mean, even though one says it's going to be enough, if you look at the reality, the way the testing that is going on right now, and the partnering with the industry, is that, as we get into the next several weeks to months, we're going to have many more tests than that limit that you're talking about.
We're going to go over that.
Vaccine, I want to come back to that very quickly. You have said you think it's possible by the end of 2020.
Do you think that's the most likely scenario?
You know, I'm cautiously optimistic about that, Judy, because we have been right now, as I told you, we got — we jumped into the development of vaccine within days from the time that the sequence was put on the public database.
We're well into a phase one with one candidate. But there's more than one candidates. I mean, I was just on the phone literally 15 minutes ago with the pharmaceutical companies that are involved, that group of four or five that are going to be going into trials at various stages. Some right now are already in. Others will be going in, in the next couple of months.
We hope to start — and I think we're going to do it, Judy — to start a phase three trial at least with a couple of candidates by early July. If we do that, and we get enough efficacy signals over the summer and into the fall, it is not only conceivable, but I'm cautiously optimistic that we would have a vaccine towards the end of this year and the beginning of next year.
So, your best estimate right now, Dr. Fauci, about what life looks like this fall is what, in terms of school, in terms of back to work?
Well, again, it's very difficult to estimate when you have a moving target like an outbreak. But what I would hope happens is that, as we get into the summer, we will continue to see that leveling off and coming down, because, if you look at the curves for the United States, even though there are some states that are still going up and not plateauing, for the most part, as a nation, we're starting to come down.
If that decline continues, and we get to the point in the summer where we're really very, very low, which is a good baseline to be at, what I see in the fall and the winter is that, as people start to get congregating indoors, and when winter comes, respiratory diseases tend to flourish.
We are going to have the complication of influenza coming back. I believe that, if we have in place the ability to do that kind of identification, isolation and contact tracing as we see these blips, it is not inevitable that we will have a second wave.
So, my cautious hope and optimism is that, as we get into the fall, we will be able to control the inevitable return of infection. Anybody that thinks it's not going to come back in the fall is not being realistic.
It's how you handle it that determines whether or not you have a second wave.
Dr. Tony Fauci, we always appreciate your joining us. Thank you very much.
Good to be with you, Judy. Thank you for having me.
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