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Fauci: We Need a Uniform Approach


Oct. 16, 2020 -- As cases of COVID-19 go up – again -- one of the nation’s top public health experts said we can get this under control and we don’t have to shut down the country again.

Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Friday during a virtual fireside chat hosted by Johns Hopkins University that the situation is ''begging for a consistent, uniform approach of all of this country pulling together to extinguish this high level of community spread.''

That’s how we can break the cycle of cases escalating in some areas and declining in others, Fauci said.

Think of the country as a gigantic forest, Fauci said. "When there are fires in one part of the forest, the other part of the forest is vulnerable. So if you want to get control of things you have got to be consistent. Unfortunately we haven't done that as well as I think we could."

With cooler months coming, much of the country will do more activities indoors, raising risk of an increase in cases.

"It is still not too late to vigorously apply good public health measures, and again I emphasize without necessarily shutting down the country," he said. "We don't want to do that. We want to use public health measures in a prudent, careful way to help us reopen the country, to reopen the economy, to get jobs back. Public health measures need to be the vehicle, the gateway, to reopening the economy, not the obstacle."

The five measures are:

  1. Wearing masks or face coverings
  2. Social distancing
  3. Avoiding crowds
  4. Staying outdoors for gatherings when possible
  5. Frequent hand washing

Among other topics Fauci addressed:

Thanksgiving gatherings: "I think people are going to have to make a choice of where they fit in the risk-benefit ratio." If someone is planning to visit after coming through a crowded airport, he said, think about the risk level of people they will be visiting. "I think each family needs to think seriously about that and make a decision based on the level of risk they want to put themselves through."

Erosion of public trust in science: "I think that's being strained and stressed right now," Fauci said. To boost trust, he said, scientists must "admit we don’t know everything and that science is evolving," with conclusions changing. "It's pure honesty and transparency that I think is going to get us out of any skepticism about our motivations and about the scientific community." Public health policies and politics must be kept separated, he said.

How the AIDS epidemic and COVID-19 are similar: The response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in some ways, is similar to how the world responded to the AIDS epidemic in the '80s, Fauci said.

"Back then, [AIDS] was perceived as a very restricted problem," Fauci said, originally affecting mainly gay men. In an article he wrote, published in 1982, he warned that ''it won't be restricted to one group'' but that it would become a global issue. "Unfortunately, that was prophetic."

In the era of AIDS, he said, public health officials had difficulty getting people to realize the potential impact as ''it didn't affect people in a uniform way" since the risk was related to behaviors.

"What we are dealing with now is a very, very complicated issue,'' he said, with many of the young and healthy mistakenly figuring they won't have serious issues if they become infected with COVID-19. For both AIDS and COVID-19, Fauci said, messaging difficulties in convincing people the diseases can be serious played or is playing a role.

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Virtual fireside chat, Anthony Fauci, Johns Hopkins University, Oct. 16, 2020.

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