- The convergence of the coronavirus pandemic and the flu could lead to “a very difficult time” for America if safety measures aren’t enforced uniformly, Dr. Anthony Fauci said during an interview.
- The nation’s top infectious disease expert stressed the importance of a few simple things that can reduce coronavirus transmission.
- Social distancing, face masks, and proper hand hygiene can limit the spread of COVID-19 so schools and nonessential businesses can operate safely.
The world’s doctors and public health officials are bracing for the fall and winter seasons, which could deliver the nightmare scenario that everyone is dreading: two infectious diseases could hit the same communities at the same time. Dual outbreaks of COVID-19 and the flu would place additional strain on healthcare systems and could put more people’s lives at risk. We’ve learned to live with the flu and tame it, but it’s endemic. We deal with flu epidemics every year, and they continue to take lives despite the availability of effective therapeutics and vaccines. The novel coronavirus is a different beast, one we’re just learning how to defeat.
America’s top infectious disease expert said in a new interview that the US is in for a “difficult time” this fall if COVID-19 and flu outbreaks converge, but maintained that the COVID-19 outbreaks could be defeated if people heed to the simple safety rules that can reduce the spread. If they don’t however, we could be in store for the nightmare scenario that infectious disease experts have been dreading.
“I totally agree,” Fauci told ABC’s David Muir on Monday, referring to comments made earlier this year by Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Redfield said in July that the combination of the flu and COVID-19 could create “one of the most difficult times that we’ve experienced in American public health.” Fauci said that Redfield’s prediction could become a reality if masks and social distancing are not enforced “in a uniform way.”
“We’d have a convergence of two respiratory diseases,” Fauci said. “We can have a very difficult time.” The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has maintained that line of thinking for months, repeating the measures the public can take to reduce transmission.
“I want to impress upon the American people in a way that’s so clear: There are things that we can do that would get the level down,” Fauci added. “If we go into the fall and the winter, David, with the same situation… we will have upticks of percent positive, and then you have the inevitable surging of infection.”
Fauci previously said the US should try to reduce the number of daily cases to less than 10,000 by fall. But that goal seems unattainable at this point, as the US is still registering between 50,000 and 70,000 new cases each day. Fauci addressed the matter in the interview and said it still can be done.
“The way human nature is acting out there, it doesn’t seem likely [this goal will be met]. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done,” Fauci said. “I don’t know how more forcefully I can make that plea to the American people. That we can open the country, we can get back to normality, if we do some simple things.”
He made it clear that the virus will not just go away on its own, as President Trump keeps insisting. But numbers can go down if people respect the safety measures. He also noted that school students should all be wearing face masks to reduce the transmission rate, but conceded that the decision is out of his hands because local authorities will have to impose the rules.
The NIAID director also addressed vaccine efficacy during the interview, saying he’s hoping the drugs will be more than 75% effective at blocking the infection. But he has no way of knowing until Phase 3 trials are concluded.
As for fast COVID-19 testing that could be available to the public, Fauci did not have an estimate on when results might be delivered in a more timely fashion.
He said he’s not pessimistic about the country pulling together to bring COVID-19 cases down. “My message is one of cautious optimism and hope,” he said. “But I’m also very realistic to know that if we don’t do it, we’re going to continue to have this up and down.”
ABC’s interview with Fauci is available in video version at this link.