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Fauci: Thanksgiving gatherings will put families at risk

As hospitalization and death rates continue to rise due to COVID-19, millions of Americans across the country are preparing this week for the Thanksgiving holiday. Judy Woodruff speaks with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease doctor, to learn more about how families can celebrate the holidays safely amid the pandemic.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the U.S. are reaching record-breaking numbers at a staggering rate. For the 20th straight day, more than 100,000 new cases of COVID have been diagnosed daily, while hospitalization records have been broken for 13 consecutive days, this as officials warn Americans to stay home during what is usually the busiest travel week of the year.

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is one of those officials. And he joins me now.

    Dr. Fauci, thank you so much for joining us again.

    These numbers are beyond disturbing. What most concerns you?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Well, what most concerns me now is the immediate situation with people traveling from different places, coming home for Thanksgiving.

    When you leave a location, have to go to an airport or wherever it is, a train station, et cetera, the possibility of exposing yourself, and then going home to your home community for a wonderful traditional Thanksgiving holiday, might actually, unfortunately, be a source of an even amplification of the surge that you already just accurately described, Judy.

    And I'm concerned about that in the very immediate future of the next few days. But I'm also concerned of the numbers that are going in the wrong direction with regard to cases, with hospitalizations, deaths, all the things that are the warning parameters that we're in the middle of a really serious situation.

    And superimpose upon that that, as we get further into the late fall and early winter, with the weather being colder, forcing more people throughout most regions of the country to do things indoors, more than outdoors, this is something that at — obviously, at face value, is a very, very challenging situation.

    So if we could just hang in there and adhere to these public health measures as we get more and more relief from the vaccines, which will start to be available in December, I think we should use that as an incentive to not give up on this and to continue to push the public health measures.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But in the — that is true, but, in the near term, with people defying federal government CDC guidelines saying, don't go home, don't go to visit grandmother or family members, what can — what should families know?

    If they are gathering, despite the best advice of the experts, what should they know?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Well, they should know that they're putting themselves and their family members at risk, because the critical issue — and it's a difficult message to get across, Judy, and that's the reason why we understand that, and not be critical of people, but to try and explain that community spread, there's a considerable amount of that from people who have no symptoms.

    So, what we ask people to do is to at least stop for a moment and do what I call a risk/benefit assessment of what you want to do in the holiday, what you want to do for the seasons where you bring people in your home.

    If you have a person who's elderly or who has an underlying condition that makes them more susceptible to the serious consequences of infection, do you really want to have that gathering, or should you say, I know it hurts not to do it, because this is such a beautiful, traditional season, but hang in there with us, because there will be future times when you can do it?

    So, maybe a sacrifice now of something that you really like would pay off in the protection of the health and safety of a loved one.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We certainly hope most people, if not everyone, will heed that advice, but we know that some will not.

    But, Dr. Fauci, I want to ask you about what some health care leaders are saying around the country, not just in urban areas, but the leader of a major health care group in the state of Idaho said today they are — he's seriously concerned that, in coming weeks, they're going to have to decide who gets care and who doesn't.

    Do you see these kinds of decisions potentially coming in the month ahead?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Yes, it is really conceivable that, if we don't turn around the trajectory of this surge, Judy, that that will happen.

    In fact, just about a week ago, there was a physician from a large — the largest health care facility in Montana who was saying that they had 25 intensive care unit beds, but over 40 intensive care unit patients, and they had to be put in that were not intensive care beds, that were in the recovery room or other places. And they were talking about the difficulty he might have in not having enough trained staff.

    So, we would want to avoid that, to the best that we can. And the way you do that is to try and blunt the trajectory. The thing I find, in some respects, astounding, Judy, is that, even in places where you have that kind of situation, like you described in Idaho and that I just described in Montana, is that people in those environments still don't believe that this is a problem.

    They say it's maybe fake news or it's just overexaggeration or it's some sort of a conspiracy.

    The data don't lie, Judy. The data are real, and each day, they come out from reliable sources. And what we see is that we're in a difficult situation, that we shouldn't that throw up our hands in despair, because we really can do something about it, if we adhere to these measures that are public health measures that we will talk about.

    We don't have to inevitably accept a dire situation, because it is within our power to do something about it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One very quick question about the decision of people to travel over Thanksgiving.

    Many colleges, in essence, have given students the green light to go home. Was that a mistake? Should more colleges and universities have said students have to stay on campus or should stay on campus?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Well, it really depends on the college, Judy.

    I don't think it's going to be a one-size-fits-all, because some of the colleges have done really well, in that they have tested their students before they have come in, they have done — surveillance tested, and the level of infection in several of those colleges that have done it right is really quite low.

    So, under those are circumstances, I think it's different from colleges that have not done that, and you really don't know the status of many of the students. There could be a lot of undetected community spread with people that are asymptomatic.

    I think that's the thing you're referring to about being careful about sending students home. But those colleges that have done it really, really well and have a very low level there, you might say, if people really need to go home, they can go home.

    But some might prefer to stay in the more safe environment of where they are. It's going to be an individual decision. So, I don't think we should make one-size-fits-all on that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A few questions about the vaccine, Dr. Fauci.

    We know there's been some good news. Several manufacturers have said they have a vaccine that seems to be quite effective. We know Pfizer, just three days ago, submitted a request for what's called emergency use authorization from the FDA.

    How quickly do you think that approval could be given? And then how quickly could whatever other government approval has to happen be given, so that this vaccine could actually get in people's arms?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Well, the projection is that, if all goes well with the application for an EUA, as you mentioned, an emergency use authorization, that there could be vaccine delivered to us the middle and end of December.

    And we project that it is very likely that we will have vaccine doses in people's arms in December. The projection is that there will be 40 million doses for 20 million people.

    And then, as we get into January, February and March, that will increase incrementally, so that, hopefully, by the time you get into the middle towards the end of the first quarter of 2021, you will have accounted for and vaccinated those who are in the higher priority groups, according to the recommendation of the CDC, so that, as you get into April and then May, you can really, in earnest, start to get the broader general population vaccinated.

    But it's going to start, if things go as planned, in December, middle to end of December.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is it a good idea, Dr. Fauci, for some governors to be making the decision on — to be doing their own vaccine safety review, as we know we have heard about from Governor Cuomo of New York, Governor Newsom of California?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Well, it is understandable, though I disagree with it, Judy, that some of these governors, with maybe good intentions of wanting to make sure they assure the safety of their citizenry.

    But what they're missing — and I would appeal to them on that — that even though they have what they perceive and maybe the reality of mixed signals from Washington, that the process of the decision of whether or not a vaccine is safe and effective, that is made by a completely independent group, not by the federal government, not by the company.

    It's made by an independent group of scientists, vaccinologists, ethicists, statisticians. They do that independently. And when they see a signal of safety and efficacy, the independent scientists at the NDA, the career scientists, make the recommendation and the decision about whether it's safe to be distributed.

    So, what I think is unfortunate, Judy, is that that is not fully appreciated on the outside. And that's why you have well-meaning governors questioning it and saying, well, who's making this decision? Is it being pressured in any way?

    If we can make them understand that it is not being pressured, that it's done in an independent, transparent fashion, I hope that they would then realize that that's good enough.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One other thing. How important is it that the Biden transition team have access to information that is now in the hands of the Trump administration and its vaccine program?

  • Anthony Fauci:


    You know, Judy, I go back to saying that, as you know — we have discussed this before — I have been involved and advised six administrations. And I have been through five transitions.

    And I can tell you that transitions are really important. It is important to have that smooth passing on of the information. I have used the metaphor of a relay race, that, when you really want to get a really good, smooth relay race, when one person has the baton and is running along, you hand it to somebody who is also running along with you for a while, and then you give them the baton.

    If you had to stop and then give it to someone who was stopped, you would waste a lot of time. So it's much more efficient to have a smooth transition from one administration to another, because, in my experience, that has worked very well in the past.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But that doesn't seem to be happening right now?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Well, obviously, it's not, because there's not the interaction with the transition team that — I have not had interaction with them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

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

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Thank you, Judy. Thank you for having me again. I appreciate being on with you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And a note: This interview with Dr. Fauci was recorded earlier this afternoon, before the news about the transition occurred.

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