Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) and head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, spoke on CBS Wednesday night about the developments needed in public health before Americans can safely return to work.
Fauci explained that in order to have a successful rolling re-entry program, where the economy would slowly open back up, we’d need to “test, identify, isolate, get someone who is infected out of circulation, and do a degree of contact tracing” to better monitor the virus’s status.
“The absolute thing that you would need is to be able to respond and contain whatever rebound you get so that you don't wind up in a situation where you have another escalation,” he told CBS’s Norah O’Donnell.
While he was reticent to guarantee the timeline, Fauci was also hopeful that a vaccine may come within a year or year and a half, saying that it is possible to “shave a couple months off” this prediction.
Reiterating this stance is William Schaffner, a professor of both medicine and preventive medicine in the Department of Health Policy and Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University.
Schaffner notes that while the emphasis is now on mitigation efforts, reopening the economy will be a question of health departments’ ability to switch back to containment strategies, meaning investigating every case and ensuring the individuals who had contact with infected patients are quarantined. He is not sure that local health departments in all jurisdictions have the resources or energy for a more intensive case-by-base public health follow up, but notes that it would be ideal to avoid future outbreaks.
In terms of reopening public spaces, Schaffner supports the idea of opening the least affected parts of the country in a “rolling fashion,” but to take a gradual approach.
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“Don’t just flip a switch and say ‘everything is back to normal’ but...maintain social distancing, for example, and all the implications that that means,” he explained. Schaffner offered that popular spaces like restaurants can begin with 50 percent capacity, supermarkets continuing to require patrons to wear facial coverings or masks and stores regulating the number of people on the premises.
Similarly, Fauci said that he would not be surprised if temperature checks become more commonplace in work environments and social distancing practiced more frequently.
Widespread testing would also need to “expand substantially,” according to Shaffner, to precisely gauge which parts of the country are more affected by the coronavirus and how it spreads.
“So all of those gradual things would give us some time to see whether we begin to see an uptick in cases again that are admitted to the hospital,” Schaffner said.
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