On Thursday, the Washington Nationals' Racing Presidents took a break from running around a baseball diamond and tore through the streets of Maryland to deliver the 2020 Federal Employee of the Year honor to Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The presidential election will prove to be a central inflection point in America's coronavirus response. And though Fauci has addressed mention of him during the debate, his main focus is on how the virus will continue to define life after election day.
Here's Fauci on what will happen if cases begin to rise, how to control Covid-19 amid flu season, dissent within the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and his response Trump's comments on Tuesday night.
As a public service, Inverse is aggregating Fauci's comments regularly in the "Fauci Dispatch" series, as the White House has severely limited his visibility to the public.
- Read the Fauci Dispatch from September 23, 2020 here
- Read the Fauci Dispatch from September 16, 2020 here
- Read the Fauci Dispatch from September 2, 2020 here
- Read the Fauci Dispatch from August 26, 2020 here
- Read the Fauci Dispatch from August 19, 2020 here
- Read the Fauci Dispatch from August 13, 2020 here
- Read the Fauci Dispatch from August 5, 2020 here
- Read the Fauci Dispatch from July 29, 2020 here
- Read the Fauci Dispatch from July 22, 2020 here
Fauci on the debate – During the presidential debate, President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden faced off on the importance of masks. Biden argued that lives would be saved if masks were worn, and added "it matters."
Trump retorted that health officials have also said the opposite. Then, he mentioned Fauci: "He said very strongly, 'Masks are not good.' Then he changed his mind. He said, “Masks are good.”
Fauci responded to Trump's comment on ABC's Start Here podcast:
"Anybody who has been listening to me over the last several months knows that a conversation does not go by where I do not strongly recommend that people wear masks," he said.
The Backdrop – The Centers for Disease Control has indeed flip-flopped on masks, and didn't embrace them for general public use until April (well after nations in Eastern Europe and Asia). In the interview with ABC's Start Here podcast, Fauci explained this messaging was crafted to avoid mask hoarding during a shortage that left healthcare workers scrambling for makeshift solutions.
The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimates that if we continue with the current level of mask-wearing and social distancing, there will be over 371,000 Covid-19 deaths in the US by January 1, 2021. If universal mask-wearing was adopted, that number would be closer to 275,000.
Fauci on keeping the country open– Speaking to WIRED, Fauci responded to the fact that the United States did not hit his goal of a fall threshold of 10,000 coronavirus cases per day. In August, Fauci said that number would help us keep a lid on cases as weather turns. As of publishing, the 7-day average for new coronavirus cases hovers above 40,000, according to the New York Times.
"We’re seeing, in certain parts of the country, upticks in test positivity, which is generally a bad prognostic sign," Fauci told WIRED. (New York, for instance, has reported a slight uptick in positive cases.)
What does that mean for the future? Ideally, not the return of lockdowns like we saw in March, he said.
"We’re not talking about shutting down anything," he said.
The backdrop – Fauci is not arguing that we should open up faster, a move that Florida is already experimenting with. Rather, he's suggesting that we can take actions to keep the economy open and try to get these new positives under control before cases climb high enough to require lockdown. He suggests that this can happen if people do five things:
- Wear masks
- Opt to do things outside
- Maintain distance
- Wash hands
- Avoid crowds
Speaking to WIRED, Fauci specifically mentioned the success of outdoor dining. In New York City, 10,000 restaurants set up outdoor dining facilities, and Covid-19 cases remained below the threshold positivity rate of five percent this summer.
However, restaurants still struggled financially without indoor dining capacity The New York Times reported. It remains to be seen how we will be able to balance keeping businesses open and controlling the spread of the virus, should it surge.
Fauci reminds us about flu season – During a National Foundation for Infectious Diseases press conference, Fauci doubled down on the dangers of the flu season raging amid the pandemic. He also offered a small ray of hope:
"Steps to fight the flu and Covid-19 overlap greatly,” Fauci said. “We don’t want those two diseases together.
The backdrop – October 1 was the official beginning of flu season. The same life-saving devices, like ventilators, are used to treat both severe Covid-19 and the flu — a keen reminder that hospitals may not be equipped for surges in both cases, as Inverse reported previously.
That said, we may be able to prevent both illnesses from joining forces at the same time. Reports from Australia's winter (the Northern Hemisphere's summer), showed an unusually slow flu season.
Australia began 2020 with the second-highest amount of flu cases in the past five years — 2019 holds the country's highest record. Then, cases plummeted in March. Flu cases remain lower than average for this time of year, according to the Australian Government's Department of Health.
The Australian government attributed that dive to "health-seeking behavior" borne of the coronavirus pandemic. The government also imposed a strict lockdown during that time – something that may not happen uniformly in the US this winter.
Fauci has urged people to get a flu shot, just in case.
Fauci on an "outlier" on the Coronavirus Task Force– Speaking to CNN, Fauci commented on his working relationship with Scott Atlas, a radiologist and member of Stanford's Hoover Institution. Atlas regularly appears on Fox News and was added to the White House Coronavirus Task Force in August.
"Most are working together," said Fauci, referring to the Task Force. "I think you know who the outlier is."
The backdrop – Since his addition to the coronavirus task force, reports have circulated suggesting that Atlas pushed a controversial herd immunity strategy to control the Covid-19. Many scientists say herd immunity is not a containment strategy.
Atlas denies those reports. However, he is on the record suggesting that: "The reality is that there’s certain data that’s very controversial about masks." However, there are countless studies showing masks work.
NBC reported on Monday that CDC director Robert Redfield said "everything that he [Atlas] says is false. (A reporter overhead Redfield while on a plane, and Redfield did not deny the statement). In September, faculty at Stanford's School of Medicine wrote a letter calling attention to "falsehoods and misrepresentations of science" made by Atlas.
Fauci has since tried to minimize the appearance of dissent within the task force. "The bad guy," he said, "is the virus."