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Why Fauci says pandemic ‘didn’t have to be this bad’

Cases of COVID-19 are continuing to climb in many parts of the country -- including in Washington, D.C., where President Trump’s infection and those of numerous White House insiders have been a source of serious concern recently. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest on the pandemic.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    COVID cases are continuing to spike around many parts of the country, and that includes right here in Washington, D.C., where the president's own case and many others in his inner circle and around the White House have been a source of serious concern this past week.

    Dr. Anthony Fauci joins me now. He's the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH.

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

    Given what you have observed, when do you think President Trump will be out of the woods?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Well, right now, he looks good, and, according to his report, he feels good.

    It is entirely conceivable that he is already well on his way to being out of the woods. The one thing that his physicians are well aware of and anyone who takes care of COVID-19 patients are aware of is that this is a strange type of a virus, because you can feel good for a few days in a row, and then you could have a really unexpected downturn, where your condition worsens.

    I hope that doesn't happen. It's unlikely it will, but it has happened in the past to people, which is the reason why his physicians are aware of that and are making sure they're monitoring it. Even though he's out, in a sense, in the White House doing things and working, he still needs to be careful that he doesn't relapse.

    So, we're hoping he doesn't. I don't think he will, but it's conceivable that he might.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you know when his last COVID negative test was? And is that relevant?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    You know, I do not know, Judy. I'm not privy to that information, to be honest with you. I just don't know when his last negative test was.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is it relevant?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Well, it's relevant, obviously, when he wants to get out into normal activity.

    The CDC guidelines say that, if you are 10 days from the onset of symptoms, then you could go out into society again. So, if you look at the time when he first got symptoms, I believe that was Thursday. You will want to count 10 days when he can generally safely go out.

    They usually back it up with negative tests by the PCR, which is likely what would happen. But he seems to be on a recovering course, which we're all pleased about.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In retrospect, Dr. Fauci, was it wise for the White House to host this — over 200 people in the Rose Garden, but also indoors, the event for Judge Barrett, with — where you had very few people wearing masks, no social distancing, in retrospect?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    I will have to answer it with a little modification, rather than making judgment on a specific episode.

    I would say something that I have said multiple times, and I have no problem repeating it now, that what you should do to avoid acquisition and transmission of infection is the universals wearing of masks, avoiding close contact, avoiding crowded situations, trying to do things outdoors much more than indoors, and washing your hands regularly.

    That applies to everyone under every circumstance. So, that may answer your that may answer your question.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And a number of those things were what was not done at the White House.

    But what I want to ask you is, we now see the number of COVID cases in Washington, D.C., as I mentioned, rising. We now — today, there was a letter written, sent to the White House by the health departments in the District of Columbia and nine other local jurisdictions, asking, urging people who work at the White House to have a COVID test, telling them to seek medical advice.

    My question is, do you — is it your sense that the White House has taken the precautions it could? We know they have turned down the CDC offer to help with contact tracing, but does it appear they have taken the steps they should have?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    The only way that you could, in all honesty and transparency, answer the question is say what it is that should have been done.

    Whether they did it or not, I don't know. But, clearly, when you have a situation, when someone comes into close contact with a documented infected person — that means within six feet of a person for 15 minutes or more who is documented to have coronavirus infection — and the rules are that you should get tested, number one, and, even if you're negative, you should have either 14 days of quarantine.

    Or, if a person is in a situation where they are an essential personnel, they can go into society. but they have got to, A, wear a mask, B, be conscious of distances, C, wash their hands frequently, and, D, if they get any symptoms, they have got to pull themselves out of circulation.

    So, those guidelines are very clear of what happens when you are in direct contact with someone who has a documented infection.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dr. Fauci, the United States has been fighting COVID-19 since, what, January, when the first person was hospitalized.

    Here we are, it's mid-October, almost, and despite the summer slowdown, and all the efforts to shut down, wear masks, social distancing, and all the things you're talking about, we're seeing an increase in many American states, in many American cities.

    Was this inevitable?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    I don't think so, Judy.

    I mean, obviously, this is a formidable virus that has an extraordinary capability of being transmitted from person to person. But the kind of outbreak that we had in the United States and that many other countries have had does not necessarily have to have been inevitable.

    Certainly, there would be considerable number of infections, but, right now, if you look at where we are, we have a baseline of daily infections at about 40,000. It's kind of stuck there at 40,000. That's of concern to me, because, as we enter the cooler months of the fall and the colder months of the winter, to be able to contain infection, when people are more indoors than they are outdoors, is going to be problematic.

    And we're going to have to double down on the things that we likely should have done consistently. But, if you look at the response as a whole, there really has been inconsistency. You recall, when we had the big spikes that went up to 70,000 cases per day, there were some states that didn't abide by the checkpoint and the phase one, phase two, phase three guidelines.

    And then, to their own credit, and to be fair to them, there were some states that try to do it right. It didn't have to be this bad, if we had done it in a way where people uniformly abided by the public health measures that we have been talking about consistently essentially every day.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just finally, a number of professional football players testing positive in recent days.

    Do you think there's a real chance that this football NFL season may have to be called off?

  • Anthony Fauci:

    You know, there's always a danger of that, Judy.

    I hope that that's not the case. They put a lot of good-faith effort in trying to make it work. If it turns out those efforts fail, that's really unfortunate. But I would leave that up to the judgment. The critical issue is the safety, the welfare and the health of the players and the personnel associated with them.

    That's got to take precedent over everything else.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, we thank you so much.

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Thank you, Judy. I appreciate you having me on your show.

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