It's clear that it's not just the weather that's changing this fall. If Dr. Anthony Fauci's recent comments tell us anything, it's that a fall with coronavirus may be a whole new ballgame as concerns over flu season surface, football picks up steam, and the country prepares for colder weather.
"We need to hunker down and get through this fall and winter because it’s not going to be easy,” Fauci recently said during a panel at Harvard Medical School.
Fauci's dark premonition is intended to ensure that people don't underestimate the power of the pandemic as Covid-19 cases in the United States drop, and death rates flatten out, nationwide. Hotspots remain, and Fauci cautions that cases tend to spike once restrictions are relaxed, if done prematurely.
"It’s really quite frankly depressing to see that because you know what's ahead," he added.
The good news is that his interviews this week also suggest we may have learned lessons this year that could help us proceed more carefully in the fall.
Here's Fauci on Vermont's unusually good control over the coronavirus, when he gets his flu shot, why football season poses an even bigger challenge than baseball season, and his own supplement regimen.
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 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 what Vermont did right – During a press conference on Tuesday with Vermont Governor Phil Scott, Fauci outlined a few things the Green Mountain state has been doing right:
"I was listening to the numbers that you said and wonder if I could bottle that and take it with me when I go around talking to other parts of the country," Fauci said.
The backdrop – As of Wednesday, Vermont has the fourth-lowest positivity rate in the US (the percentage of coronavirus tests returned positive) at about 1 percent, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. (During the Press Conference, Scott claimed Vermont's positivity rate was 0.2 percent).
According to Johns Hopkins, the lowest in the country is actually Maine, where the positivity rate is 0.61 percent.
Notwithstanding, Vermont's positivity rate is an example of a virus that was successfully controlled, as Fauci notes. Vermont has a mask mandate. The state also has a quarantine policy – those who travel to counties with similar caseloads to Vermont (about 400 cases per 1 million people) don't have to quarantine if they travel in a personal vehicle. But those who come from counties with higher caseloads do.
Though it may seem that the small, sparsely populated state had a leg up, Fauci nixed the idea that Vermont's population was the only reason they've kept the virus under control. New York, which implemented many of the same measures, has a positivity rate of about one percent as well.
When Fauci gets his flu shot – During an Instagram Live conversation with actress Jennifer Garner, Fauci revealed when he gets his flu shot every year.
He targets "the middle and end of October."
The backdrop – While it's important to get a flu shot every year, this year it's even more paramount.
Flu, like Covid-19, is a respiratory virus. Should those two illnesses peak in tandem this winter, it could cause a "twindemic," a phrase coined in an August 16 New York Times story, or additional stress on medical resources already stretched thin.
"We have all heard the Covid-19 stories of ICUs filled beyond capacity and shortages of equipment such as ventilators. If we add a bad flu season to that — we won’t be able to handle it."
Richards says she gets her flu shot in late September, but there is the chance that the immunity may wane in later months. Her best advice is to get the shot before the flu starts circulating. She also notes it can take about 2 weeks for the body to develop immunity with the help of a flu vaccine, which is why she leans earlier.
Fauci's take on baseball and football – On September 10, Fauci spoke to a panel at Harvard Medical School about his take on Major League Baseball's decision to avoid the bubble approach, and what we might expect as football resumes this fall.
"I am pleasantly surprised that we are still playing major league baseball," Fauci replied. (As of Tuesday, more than 40 MLB games have been postponed because of positive Covid-19 cases.)
He added that "it's going to be very different with football."
"Football is going to be very interesting and problematic about what you do."
The backdrop – When baseball first returned this summer, the league was plagued with clustered coronavirus cases. The league has managed to continue, pausing games where players test positive, and avoiding retreating into a "bubble."
However, for the post-season, MLB players have committed to a bubble approach to limit game stoppages.
Football, as Fauci notes, could be a different story. The physical nature of football may make it harder to control the virus, Fauci told the Harvard Medical School panel.
But with regular testing, an empty stadium, and isolation of players, he said it might be possible to play football professionally. As of September 13, the positivity rate across the NFL was 0.017 percent.
Whether that will trickle down to the college level, where cases on campus are surging, remains to be seen.
We may be poised to find out what happens through trial and error, thanks to recently announced major changes: On Wednesday, after indicating that they would cancel the 2020 season, the Big Ten, a powerful football conference, reversed course. The league will now commence in October, testing players and staff every day. Conferences that voted to begin the season earlier, like the Atlantic Coast Conference, have already seen games postponed because of the virus.
What vitamins Fauci takes – During the Instagram Live broadcast with Jennifer Garner, Fauci spoke to about the supplements and vitamins he takes on a regular basis. He takes vitamin D and vitamin C, and offered his opinion on whether other supplements can boost the immune system:
"If people want to use them, fine, but it's not something you're going to recommend."
The backdrop – There is some emerging evidence that vitamin D deficiency may have effects on coronavirus.
A study released on September 3 in the journal JAMA Network Open found that people with a vitamin D deficiency were more likely to get Covid-19 than those without deficiency. Critically, this study only evaluated 486 people. Meanwhile, a 2013 review argued that vitamin C may help shorten the length of common colds. Though more research is needed, its authors reason that there's little harm in giving it a try if you're feeling a cold coming on.
Fauci's comments do not mean he's hyping either vitamin as a treatment for Covid-19.
Since the coronavirus pandemic, there has been an explosion of supplements (remember zinc lozenges?) that claim to treat Covid-19. It is illegal for a supplement to claim it can treat a specific condition.
In July NPR documented 100 such supplements on Amazon. While most supplement companies stop short of saying they can treat or prevent Covid-19, they do often claim they can fight viruses in general. For example, the Center for Science in the Public Interest found examples of elderberry supplements with "anti-viral properties" and dietary supplements that claim the power to "strengthen the immune system instantly so it can fight the virus."
There are ways to protect immune health, but if Fauci's quote makes anything clear, it's that if a claim looks too good to be true, it probably is.