PALO ALTO (CBS SF) — Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, joined Stanford University’s dean of medicine Monday for a talk on the challenges and medical progress made in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
In a virtual fireside chat on Monday, Fauci said coronavirus cases are now surging in the U.S. because unlike Asia and Europe, the U.S never completely shut down, and that parts of the country were not cautious about gradually reopening and following critical checkpoints.
He said this virus is a combination of a new microbe that has a spectacular degree of capability of transmitting and one that has a considerable degree of causing a spectrum of illnesses and death. He is constantly amazed by its protean nature.
“Here it is, it’s happened, you know? Your worst nightmare, the perfect storm,” said Fauci.
He is rumored to work 18-hour days. Sometimes, he admitted, he is running on adrenaline.
Currently, the country is seeing its highest levels of COVID-19 yet, with 3.3 million confirmed cases overall and 60,469 new cases reported Sunday, but Fauci said it’s not too late to reverse the impacts.
“We can get a handle on that,” Fauci said in a discussion with Stanford’s Dr. Lloyd Minor. “We don’t necessarily need to shut down again, but if we pull back and proceed in a very prudent way and respect the guidelines … those things, as simple as they are, can turn it around.”
“So, when you try to reopen if you’re not handling the surges well, what you’re seeing is what we’re seeing right now,” said Dr. Fauci, punctuating his point with a rapidly rising hand.
It’s clear to many experts how some places bungled it.
“All you needed to do was look at the films on TV of people. Some states who went from shutdown to complete throwing caution to the wind: bars that were crowded, people without masks,” remarked Fauci, shaking his head.
Dr. Yvonne Maldonado of Stanford listened to the chat and agreed with Dr. Fauci. She is a professor of Pediatrics and Human Research and Policy at Stanford as well as an infectious disease expert.
“You know this is all about behavior right now. It’s all about behavior,” commented Dr. Maldonado.
She said a big part of the battle is that some folks are fed up with being cooped up and restricted. It’s understandable, she added.
“I think people are tired of being shut in. We have to let people get out, but we need to give them some guard rails,” remarked Dr. Maldonado.
It’s clear by looking at several metrics, that those who are now getting infected are younger. Dr. Fauci believes they will be key in reopening the country and keeping it open. There is a critical need to reach them and convince young people, showing them the scientific evidence that they play a role in transmitting the infection.
“Because although you may not get sick, you’re almost certainly going to infect someone else who will almost certainly infect somebody else. And then you get a vulnerable person who will be sick go the hospital who might die,” remarked Dr. Fauci.
As for those guardrails, Dr. Maldonado said you can go out. But please wear a mask or face covering that covers your nose, practice social distancing and wash your hands frequently. If you are at a higher risk because you are older or have an underlying condition, ask someone else to shop for you, and take special precautions.
Influenza season is not that far away. When a flu shot is available, please get vaccinated.
As to what we don’t yet know about this virus, Dr. Fauci detailed at least 4 major areas:
Medical professionals have learned interventions with the antiviral drug remdesivir and the steroid dexamethasone have been proven to be effective with people who are already advanced with the disease.
Fauci said the next steps are to identify interventions that are given earlier in the course of the disease to prevent people who are vulnerable from getting it or prevent it from getting worse in those who are already infected.
“I believe we are on a good track to get there reasonably soon,” Fauci said. “In terms of vaccines … there are multiple candidates that are in various stages in clinical trial.”
Dr. Fauci detailed how several vaccines are in various phases of clinical study. The companies that make them have agreed to begin producing millions of doses of their vaccine before the FDA approves them as safe and effective. In that way, a vaccine will immediately get deployed upon approval.
In addition, in this era of anti-vac and anti-science sentiment, a network of community leaders is getting ready and prepped to go into their neighborhoods to try to persuade residents to get vaccinated when it’s time.
“You don’t really want a lot of white guys in suits like me going into a mostly minority community and convincing them about something that they are very deeply skeptical of,” explained Dr. Fauci. “You’ve got to get people that the community trusts.”
Fauci says there has to be a way to distribute the vaccine in an equitable way and so to try to achieve this goal, they’ve put together committees of people who understand vaccines, community representatives, and ethicists who can make sure the decisions about distribution are based on ethical principles of justice and fairness.
Fauci believes at least one vaccine will be ready for public use by 2021.
“I think what we really do need, and I have been saying this for decades. We really need to have a very solid pandemic preparedness plan and operation capabilities because this is not something that will go away and not happen again,” he said.
Tangible next steps to prepare for the next pandemic would be to continue to develop scientific technologies for quick vaccine development.
Another step would be emphasizing the study of prototype pathogens, a particular family of potentially threatening microorganisms, which could be helpful in developing universal vaccines and therapies.
“To give you an example, coronaviruses. This is the third pandemic we have had in the last 18 years with coronaviruses. We had SARS in 2002. We had MERS in 2012 and now in 2020 we got COVID,” Fauci said.
California is also not immune from high case counts. The state has more than 329,000 confirmed cases and more than 7,000 deaths, according to the latest state data as of Monday.
However, Fauci pointed out that the Bay Area was doing a lot better in controlling the transmission of COVID-19 than the rest of the state.
“California, being the large state that it is, is a bit of a mixed bag … I have worked with Gov. Gavin Newsom throughout these few months and he really has his handle on it, understands what he needs to do and I believe he is doing a really good job, as are several of your Bay Area mayors.”
In early March, Stanford was one of the first academic medical centers in the country to develop its own diagnostic tests, which helped made testing available in Northern California.
“We have such extraordinary talent in our academic medical centers. We really need to begin to leverage them more,” Fauci said. “California has a number of world-class academic medical centers. The Bay Area alone, you have UCSF and Stanford right there among others are some of the best of the world. I think if the rest of the country would leverage their academic medical centers, we would be much better off.”
Fauci at Monday’s event did not discuss recent questioning of him and other public health officials by President Donald Trump and other White House officials.
Among Trump’s most recent tweets as of Monday was the sharing of a tweet by another user who asked, “So based on Dr. Fauci and the Democrats, I will need an ID card to go shopping but not to vote?”
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