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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is one of the country's top public health experts. He was initially a prominent figure at Coronavirus Task Force briefings -- but recently, he has been the target of White House criticism. Dr. Fauci joins Judy Woodruff to discuss his relationship with President Trump and recommendations for managing COVID-19.
A record-setting week in the COVID-19 pandemic is coming to a close, with the world approaching 14 million cases and 600,000 deaths.
Nearly 140,000 of those deaths have occurred here in the United States. And the virus continues to spread every day.
In response today, the city of Miami imposed strict enforcement of orders to wear face masks, as cases surge across Florida. Military medics began deploying to help overwhelmed hospitals. And governors in Texas and California set rules allowing schools to stay completely online this fall.
And now to Judy Woodruff.
Next week will mark six months since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in this country, but, as we just heard, much of the nation is struggling with the consequences of outbreaks and debating how to best respond.
Dr. Anthony Fauci is the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH. He is a member of the president's task force for dealing with COVID-19.
And, Dr. Fauci, we welcome you back to "NewsHour."
So, as we know, this pandemic is getting worse, more cases, a surge even in the number of deaths in a number of states.
You have said that, yes, things could get worse, but you don't think there will need to be another national shutdown. What, short of that, do you think needs to be done?
Thank you, Judy, for that question, because it is important.
I would think that, where we are right now, particularly in the Southern states, which are surging and are accounting for a considerable part of that now 60,000 to 70,000 new cases that we're seeing every day, is that we need to re — sort of, I would say, maybe reboot, take a look at what we're doing there.
And several of the states, if you look at them, some have maybe gone a little bit too quickly from one phase to another. And, in other situations, when the leadership of the states and the cities actually directed their citizens to do it correctly, that wasn't very responsive.
And we have seen that when you see people congregating at bars, not wearing masks, in crowds.
We have got to say, this is not working. So, what we have got to do is reset. You may need to pull back a bit on a phase. You don't necessarily need to lock down.
But you have got to do three or four or five things that are absolutely critical, Judy, because we know they work. And that is universal wearing of masks. Stay away from crowds. Close the bars.
You appeal to the people in the local areas, close those bars. They are seriously the — one of the major reasons why we're seeing it.
And I think, if we do that for a couple of weeks in a row, Judy, I think we're going to see a turnaround, because we know that that works.
But, with all due respect, Dr. Fauci, the American people have been hearing that message, and, in some places, it's not working.
So, are you saying we just keep on with what we have been doing, or something different needs to happen?
No, I think it's — I understand what you're saying, Judy, and you make a good point.
But it's been a bit spotty. It hasn't been uniform, where everybody in that region says, wait a minute, we're having a serious problem. We have got to reboot this.
And it isn't like some people say, wear masks, others say not. Some people say bars are closed, others not. We have got to do it across the board in those areas. This is serious business.
And we can turn it around. If I didn't think we could do it, I wouldn't be so emphatic about emphasizing why we have got to do this.
Well, I know you don't like to talk about politics, but, in the state of Georgia, for example, where you have several mayors who have said, I want everybody in my city, they have to wear a mask, the governor is saying mayors can't do that.
How do you have a consistent statewide message, when you have this kind of difference?
Well, you're right, Judy. I don't want to get involved in politics.
But all I can do is plead with the people out there to be consistent and listen to what health officials like myself, if I may, are saying. Put everything else aside, and uniformly do the right thing.
Even if the governor of a state, like Governor Kemp in Georgia, is saying something else?
Well, I would appeal to them to just not do that.
Again, you're right. If I get involved in politics, what happens is, it diverts the message. And my message is, if you're doing it this way, and it's not working, please reconsider, to be consistent with your message.
Let me ask you, Dr. Fauci, about testing.
It has now — it's now clear that there aren't enough tests. Yes, they have been ramped up across the country. There are many more than there were being done months ago. But, with this surge, there aren't enough.
What has to happen in order for there to be enough tests in enough places for the country to get its arm around this virus — its arms around this virus?
We have got to get the tests in the right place at the right time.
As you know, we have been told by the people responsible for the tests that there are a lot of tests out there and, as we get into the next weeks to months, there could be millions of more tests.
We have got to use them in the right manner. We have got to get them to the right people who can do the proper identification, isolation and contact tracing, and even go beyond that, Judy, to be able to test more widely in a more surveillance way, so you can get a feel for the extent and the penetrance of this community spread.
But there's going to need to be — as I understand it, there needs to be support, there needs to be funding for a number of these labs to open up. That hasn't happened yet.
What — do you know of a solution to get this ramped up immediately?
We have got to make sure the dots are connected, Judy.
When the Congress, in — with a great deal of generosity, gave billions of dollars to try and solve this problem, they gave something like $10 billion to the CDC to give to the states to do these kinds of implementing.
We have got to make sure that it gets well spent and that it gets done in the right way. Again, we have a problem. We need to admit it and own it. But we have got to do the things that are very clear that we need to do to turn this around, remembering we can do it.
We know that, when you do it properly, you bring down those cases. We have done it. We have done it in New York. New York got hit worse than any place in the world. And they did it correctly by doing the things that you're talking about.
You have been saying — we have seen some promising developments in the last few days and weeks on vaccines. You have been saying maybe later this year, into 2021.
And yet there was a cautionary word from the head of a major pharmaceutical company this week. Merck, Ken Frazier, who's the CEO, said — and I'm quoting here — he said: "Anybody who says that" — he says: "Officials are doing a great disservice by telling the American people there could be a vaccine by the end of this year," because there are a whole lot of hurdles that yet have to be dealt with before there will be a vaccine.
How do you answer that?
Well, first of all, I know Ken. He's a good friend and he's a good person. But I have to disagree with him, respectfully, on this.
I don't think that's outlandish at all, because what we have been doing is that we have been putting certain things in line with each other in a way that's unprecedented.
If you look at the history — and I don't want to spend a lot of time going in on it — we have gone from the sequence of the virus to a vaccine development program in days. We went from that, 62 days later, to get a phase one trial going.
What you just mentioned was published two days ago, and showed very robust antibody — neutralizing antibody responses that were comparable to what you see when someone recovers from infection.
Generally — and Ken is right — generally, that would take a couple of years to get to that point. We're already there. We're going into a phase three trial at the end of the month. And there are a number of other candidates that we will be following sequentially.
One is right. 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.
And that is — and I will repeat it — that, 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, because, if you look at the infections that are going on right now, and phase three trials that are now starting at the end of the month, we could get a signal of safety and efficacy by — as we get into the late fall and the early winter.
And if we do, then, by the beginning of 2021, we could have a vaccine.
Available to hundreds of millions of Americans?
On day one, Judy, it's not going to be available to hundreds of millions.
But what we're hearing from the companies, who have been given a lot of money by the federal government to do this, is to start making doses before you know that the trial works, which means that, if it works, you have saved months. If it doesn't, you have lost a lot of money.
So, we think we can start getting doses in the beginning of 2021. And the companies have said hundreds of millions of doses within that year. So it's not going to be from day one, but it will be quick.
Do you have a worry, though, Dr. Fauci, that the anti-vaccine movement could interfere with this timetable?
Yes, I do, because, I mean, we have to admit and realize that there is an anti-vax movement that we have had to struggle with in this country.
And I believe the solution to that would be community engagement and community outreach, to get people that are trusted by the community to go out there and explain to them the importance of not only getting engaged in the vaccine trial, but the importance of, when the vaccine is shown to be safe and effective, to actually take the vaccine, because it could be lifesaving, and it certainly would be the solution to this terrible pandemic.
So much to ask you, Dr. Fauci, but one of the most important things on people's minds, of course, is going back to school.
And I do want to ask you about K-12. As you know, the secretary of education this week said all children should be back in school this fall. There's even a potential risk of losing federal funds. Then, just this afternoon, the governor of California said most California schools are not going to be back in-person.
What are individuals, what are parents to make of this?
Obviously, this is a disconcerting problem, because we care so much about our children and their education.
The way I look at it, Judy, quickly, I have, looking at 40,000 feet, a default position. The default position is that you should try, to the best of your ability, with all considerations to the safety and welfare of the children and the teachers, we should try to get the children back to school as best as we possibly can.
With that as the framework, you have got to look throughout the country that the level of infection is different from region to region, state to state, county to county. So there are going to be some counties where there's no problem, take the kids back to school, they're not in danger.
In those areas where it's iffy, where you see that there's a degree of infection, then what some schools will do, short of just shutting down, and some authorities may decide to do that, is to do something with a little bit of creativity, maybe alternating classes, spacing of the desks, for children who can do it, wearing masks, protecting the vulnerable.
So, you can go from one extreme to the other. You have got to say, I'm going to try to open the schools, to the best of my ability. And if there are issues with activity of virus, try to mitigate it by some creative capabilities.
And I think that's what you're seeing, as different states respond to the mandate to open schools.
As you probably have heard, the city of Philadelphia, the mayor has said there won't be any large gatherings through February, with concern about the colder weather, what's going to happen with the coronavirus, coupled with people being — having to deal with the flu.
How much worry do you have, Dr. Fauci, that this pandemic is going to be harder to control once we get into the winter? And I know there's the vaccine question out there. But, setting vaccine aside, what about this pandemic and cold weather?
Well, first of all, the thing that I hope we do successfully, Judy — and it would really, really impact greatly on the answer to your question — is that I would like to see us get back down to baseline as we enter the late fall and early winter.
If you look at the curve for many of the European countries, it goes way up, and then it comes down. They may have had thousands of cases, but their baseline is measured in 10s and maybe hundreds of cases.
Our baseline is in the tens of thousands. So, we went up and then came down to 20,000, 20, 20, 20, and then 30, 40, 50, 60, 70.
So, my main concern right now is, I want to get that curve down to a really low level. If we go into the late fall and winter at that baseline level, as cases emerge, it will be infinitely easier to contain them than trying to chase them in a mitigation way.
Having said that, what does concern me is that — the overlap of the influenza season with another respiratory virus, where you have got to be able to determine the difference of those two.
And that's the reason why I think what we should be doing is making sure that, as we get into the fall, we get as many people vaccinated as we possibly can against influenza to try, to the extent possible, get that off the table.
The White House.
You had your first conversation with President Trump, we are told, this week in perhaps a month or longer. You had a meeting with the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows.
But, just yesterday, he called you irresponsible for a statement you made comparing — saying that this pandemic could be worse than the 1918 pandemic. You also have been attacked, as you know, by Peter Navarro, the White House adviser.
Are you convinced that the White House is not trying to discredit you, Dr. Fauci?
I think you have got to be careful when you say the White House.
There are — the White House in general is not trying to. Certainly, the president is not. I certainly believe that Mark Meadows is not.
What happened with Peter Navarro and that editorial, I can't even comment on that. That just is beyond my comprehension why he did that.
But I do not believe that the White House is trying to discredit me. No, I don't.
Do you think there are individuals in the White House who are?
Well, I already mentioned one.
And Mark Meadows saying you're irresponsible for that comment?
Well, I — what happened there is that that was something that was said in another interview where I went, where there could have been a misunderstanding that I was equating them.
So, one thing we wanted to do was to correct that, which I did in an interview that I had just, like, yesterday, I believe. I don't think he was calling me irresponsible as a person. I think he was referring to his concern that there was going to be some misunderstanding.
I don't have a problem with that. Mark and I are on very good terms.
Let me ask it this way, Dr. Fauci. Do you think you have the full backing and support of the White House, from the president on down?
I do. I do. I believe I do.
I spoke to the president about that. I believe I do.
And why do you think they have been trying to limit your public appearances?
Well, I think it's a question of different messages getting out.
The real emphasis right now is on more of trying to get the country opened again and economic messages. I don't think there's going to be that — yes, it varies. There are some times when I'm on a lot, and there are some times when I'm not.
Here I am with you. You know I always like to be on with you. I'm glad they said yes to that.
And we appreciate it. And we appreciate it.
And just finally and quickly, Dr. Fauci, as you project ahead in the next — in the next few months, you're optimistic? You're realistic? I mean, how do you — how would you describe your frame of mind? I mean, right now, many Americans are really worried about this.
Well, Judy, I am looked upon as a very realistic person, some may even say pessimistic, but I think it's more realistic than it is pessimistic.
I fundamentally have a real bent of optimism in me. But we're dealing with a serious problem that I believe we can handle. So, what I don't want to see is that, when you say, well, it's a serious problem, you throw up your hands and say, God, we don't have any way of handling it.
I believe that, if we hold together as a country, and we do the things that I have been talking about in this interview with you, that we can get our arms around this, and we can turn it around. I'm convinced of that.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, thank you very much for joining us.
As always, Judy, it's great to be with you.
Watch the Full Episode
Broadcast journalist Judy Woodruff is the anchor and managing editor of the PBS NewsHour. She has covered politics and other news for five decades at NBC, CNN and PBS.
Courtney Norris is the deputy senior producer of national affairs for the NewsHour. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @courtneyknorris
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