Flickerings of a return to normal could start taking place next month, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday to discuss the next steps in the fight against the coronavirus.
In response to President Donald Trump’s national emergency order, and orders declared by many governors, much of American life has been on hold for the past few weeks.
The mandated closure of businesses sparked a wave of unemployment claims and fears from small businesses that they won’t be able to recover.
Trump has said he wants to end the restrictions to avoid further damage to the economy, but not at the cost of lives that could otherwise have been saved.
On Sunday, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Fauci about how, from Fauci’s standpoint, that might work.
The doctor said he saw hopeful signs in the current data.
“At the same time that a place like the New York metropolitan area had a very — a really terrible, terrible week of suffering and death, nonetheless, the indications of that part of this machine that drives this outbreak is starting to level off, because on the same day that the New York metropolitan area had the highest number of deaths they had, when you look at the admissions, the hospitalizations, the intensive care, and the need to intubate, that not only has flattened; it’s starting to turn the corner,” Fauci said, according to a CNN transcript.
“So, that’s where we’re hopeful. And it’s cautious optimism that we’re seeing that decrease. And if you look at the patterns of the curves in other countries, once you turn that corner, hopefully, we will see a very sharp decline. And then you can start thinking about how we can keep it that way and prevent it from resurging, when you’re starting to think about a gradual reentry of some sort of normality, some rolling re-entry.
“So, you’re trying to balance two things. You want to make sure you don’t do something prematurely and precipitously. At the same time, you pay attention to the need to try and get back to normal.”
Tapper then cited an earlier quote from Fauci that mass testing would need to be in place as a precursor to reopening the nation, according to a portion of the interview posted on YouTube.
“You know, Jake, I — we really can’t guarantee every area of the country. But what we’re told by the companies and the people who are getting the antibody test, which doesn’t tell you if a person is infected — it tells you if they have been infected — and that’s going to be important when you think about getting people back into the workplace,” he said.
“But the other point which is important, if you start, and when one starts to relax some of those restrictions, we know that there will be people who will be getting infected. I mean, that is just reality.
“The critical issue is to be able to, in real time, identify, isolate and contact trace. That’s called containment. Right now, in places like New Orleans and in New York City, we’re in mitigation.”
Fauci said governors understand the future will be a balancing act.
“I have confidence that, with the help that we can do federally, from the federal government, to the fact that the states are really committed to doing it right, I think that combination, hopefully, is going to get us to where we want to be,” he said.
Fauci later again used the phrase “rolling re-entry” to describe what will take place.
“It is not going to be a light switch that we say, ‘OK, it is now June, July or whatever, click, the light switch goes back on,'” Fauci said.
“It’s going to be depending where you are in the country, the nature of the outbreak that you have already experienced, and the threat of an outbreak that you may not have experienced. So, it’s going to — having to look at the situation in different parts of the country,” he said.
A return to normal in New York City will be very different from recovery in other places around the nation, he said.
“Obviously, New York, who went and is going through a terrible ordeal, is going to be very different from Arkansas … and very different maybe from some places on the West Coast, like Washington state, which have been successfully able to prevent that big spike. I think it’s going to have to be something that is not one size fits all,” he said.
Fauci suggested some steps could take place in May.
“I think it could probably start, at least in some ways, maybe next month,” he said. “And, again, Jake, it’s so difficult to make those kinds of predictions, because they always get thrown back at you if it doesn’t happen, not by you, but, you know, by any of a number of people.
“We are hoping that, at the end of the month, we could look around and say, ‘OK, is there any element here that we can safely and cautiously start pulling back on?’ If so, do it. If not, then just continue to hunker down.”
Fauci noted that his concern is purely from the perspective of public health.
“And that’s what, at least for me standpoint of the public health aspect, that we look at. Other decisions are going to have to be made at the level of the president and the governors about what they are going to do with all of the information they get. The only thing I and my colleagues in public health and medicine can do is to give a projection of the kinds of things that may or may not happen when you make these steps,” he said.
Fauci said a single national date to return to life as it was would be a mistake.
“If you just say, ‘OK, it’s whatever, May 1, click, turn — turn the switch on,’ obviously, if you do it in an all-or-none way, there’s an extraordinary risk of there being a rebound,” he said, adding, “And that’s why I mean it is not an all or none. It’s going to be something that you gradually and carefully, in different parts of the country in different ways, try to get back.
“I totally I agree if that, all of a sudden, we decide, ‘OK, it’s May whatever,’ and we just turn the switch on, that could be a real problem. And everybody knows that. So, it’s going to be something different from that. It’s going to be a concerted way to take a look and try doing it appropriately, depending upon where you are in the country and what the nature of the outbreak is in that part of the country.”
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