Story at a glance
- Anthony Fauci discusses how public health measures will help the U.S. emerge from the pandemic.
- He says that he trusts the experts at the FDA to approve a safe and effective vaccine.
New COVID-19 cases are accelerating across the U.S., rising swiftly above previous record case counts set during the tumultuous spring and summer months.
There has been a documented 30 percent increase in testing positivity rates over the past two weeks and more than 8 million COVID-19 cases reported in the country. But, even as the U.S. enters a potentially troubling winter season, Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious diseases expert, says that a nationwide lockdown may not be the best solution at this time.
Speaking to “60 Minutes,” Fauci says outbreaks would have to “get really, really bad” before he would advocate for a national lockdown.
“First of all, the country is fatigued with restrictions. So we wanna use public health measures not to get in the way of opening the economy, but to being a safe gateway to opening the economy,” Fauci said. “So instead of having an opposition, open up the economy, get jobs back, or shut down. No. Put ‘shut down’ away and say, ‘We're gonna use public health measures to help us safely get to where we want to go.’"
Instead, Fauci says, the emphasis remains on practicing now-familiar public health measures like wearing masks, physically distancing and washing hands frequently — key steps in controlling virus transmission.
He elaborated that these practices are not intended to halt the reopening of public spaces, but to facilitate a gradual reopening while still mitigating transmission levels or how quickly the virus spreads.
Responding to President Trump’s criticism that he suddenly reversed course on his stance regarding the public wearing facial coverings, Fauci explained that his initial decision to discourage public mask-wearing came during the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).
When masks, especially homemade ones, became widely available and were shown to prevent virus transmission, Fauci advocated for their universal use.
“It became clear that cloth coverings...not necessarily a surgical mask or an N95, cloth coverings, work,” Fauci said. “Now there’s no longer a shortage of masks. Number two, meta-analysis studies show that, contrary to what we thought, masks really do work in preventing infection.”
Still, he admits he was wrong in his initial decision to discourage widespread mask-wearing.
“When you find out you're wrong, it's a manifestation of your honesty to say, ‘Hey, I was wrong. I did subsequent experiments and now it's this way,’” he said.
Many are looking toward an upcoming COVID-19 vaccine as a final piece to the puzzle of ending the COVID-19 pandemic. A treatment approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is on the distant horizon, with multiple pharmaceutical companies in late stage clinical trials with their vaccine candidates.
Public confidence in a forthcoming vaccine, however, is relatively low, with only just more than half of the population willing to take the first round of a low-cost vaccine when it becomes available.
Fauci says that the decision as to whether or not to take it will, personally, come down to the data.
“I'm gonna look at the data upon which the FDA makes that decision. I trust the permanent professionals in the FDA,” he said. “The director, the commissioner of the FDA, has been very public that he will not let politics interfere. We have an advisory committee to the FDA who are made up of independent people who I trust. Put all those things together, if the final outcome is that the FDA approves it, I will take it.”
Most public health experts and officials believe a vaccine will be available for mass distribution by spring or mid-2021.