Americans must trust health experts’ advice and make personal sacrifices to effectively combat the spread of COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a Tuesday Zoom event.
Fauci is one of the country’s leading infectious disease experts. As the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, he has served a pivotal role in guiding the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic, advising policymakers and presenting sober analyses of the crisis to the public.
During the event, moderated by the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service and Georgetown’s Global Health Initiative, Fauci discussed the surge in infections in southern and western states and reflected on the pandemic’s cause, scale and possible conclusion.
The COVID-19 pandemic is historic in scope and impact, Fauci remarked.
“This is a pandemic of historic proportions,” Fauci said during the talk. “It’s something that I think when history looks back on it, it will be comparable to what we saw in 1918.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, which has upended life across the globe, has taken an especially heavy toll on the United States, killing at least 136,000 Americans and infecting millions more. The United States leads the world in COVID-19 deaths and infections. States and counties across the country, especially in the South and the West, are still fighting to contain the virus and minimize the health and economic wreckage it has wrought.
The rocketing infection numbers can be attributed to expanded testing capabilities and a greater spread of the disease, according to Fauci. President Donald Trump has argued that COVID-19 cases are increasing because of expanded testing.
“Obviously the more you test, the more you are going to pick up,” Fauci said. “There is no doubt that there are more infections, and we know that because the percentage of cases — the cases that are tested that are positive — is increasing.”
Throughout the pandemic, Trump and his supporters have downplayed the pandemic’s severity and undermined the advice of health experts, often peddling unfounded theories about the pandemic’s origin and nature. Members of the Trump administration have attacked Fauci directly, attempting to raise doubt about his judgment and credibility.
Fauci advised citizens to trust the advice of medical authorities.
“I would stick with respected medical authorities who have a track record of telling the truth, who have a track record of giving information and policy and recommendations based on scientific evidence and good data,” Fauci said.
While the pandemic continues to ravage the United States, other countries are beginning to emerge from the crisis. Countries like South Korea and Germany more successfully reigned in the virus in part because of their relatively quick and strict national lockdowns, according to Fauci.
“In Europe, for example, and in some of the Asian countries, when they shut down, essentially lockdown, they locked down to the tune of about 90 to 90-plus percent,” Fauci said. “We have a very large and a very heterogeneous country with different risks in different places geographically and demographically, and in reality, even though we locked down considerably, we only locked down — the estimate is somewhere around 50, 55% or so.”
With no national strategy in place, states and counties imposed widely varying and often insufficient health policies to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The United States hovered at around 20,000 new cases per day between April and June before rising to about 60,000 cases a day in July, according to Fauci. The reason for this trend is complicated but is likely attributable to the country’s decentralized approach to the lockdown, Fauci added.
“We live in a country that, from its founding, had a federalist bend to it where there were states that had the independent right and capability of doing things their own way,” Fauci said. “Possibly, that really was a little bit of a disadvantage here.”
Fauci also cautioned against rushing to reopen schools in the fall. The Trump administration, including Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, is pushing for the reopening of schools and in-person classes. Every county and school, however, must weigh the serious health implications of welcoming teachers and students back to the classroom.
“As a general principle, we should try, as best as possible, to keep the children in school,” Fauci said. “However, that’s going to vary from where you are in the country and what the dynamics of the outbreak are in your particular region.”
One of the major causes of the recent surge in cases is the congregation of young people in bars, restaurants and other crowded areas, according to Fauci. While young adults may be statistically less likely to die from COVID-19, they are putting other people at risk by violating social distancing rules or refusing to wear a mask in public.
“What they need to understand is that, given the nature of this outbreak, even if you get infected and have no symptoms at all and never get sick, you are inadvertently propagating the pandemic,” Fauci said. “It may not matter to you, because you are probably not going to get any symptoms, but the chances are that you are going to infect someone, who then will infect someone, who then will be a vulnerable person, who could get sick, who could get hospitalized, who could even die.”
Fauci urged young people to make personal sacrifices to benefit the public good.
“So I would hope that you could appeal to the young people to not only take the individual, personal responsibility but think about your societal responsibility. And that’s what I mean when I say we’re all in this together,” Fauci said. “Everybody has a place and a role in getting this outbreak under control, and your not caring whether you get infected or not is not a good way to get the outbreak under control.”