Re­think big Thanks­giv­ings, wear a mask, urges Dr. Fauci

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - By Mered­ith Cohn

“We want to use pub­lic health mea­sures in a pru­dent way. We want to open the econ­omy and get jobs back. Pub­lic health mea­sures need to be the gate­way, not the ob­sta­cle, to open­ing the econ­omy.”

Re­think big fam­ily gath­er­ings for Thanks­giv­ing, con­tinue wear­ing your mask and keep your dis­tance as cold weather likely ush­ers in more coron­avirus cases. But don’t give up hope that more nor­mal life will ever re­turn.

That’s the mes­sage de­liv­ered Fri­day by Dr. An­thony Fauci, the gov­ern­ment’s top pan­demic sci­en­tist, dur­ing a vir­tual “fire­side chat” with the staff and stu­dents at Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity as part of a new se­ries of dis­cus­sions with Wash­ing­ton lead­ers.

Fauci, direc­tor of the Na­tional Academy of Al­lergy and In­fec­tious Dis­eases and a top ad­viser to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion on the coron­avirus, didn’t of­fer much new dur­ing the health pol­icy fo­rum.

But as Ellen MacKen­zie, dean of the Hop­kins Bloomberg School of Pub­lic Health, said dur­ing the dis­cus­sion, the pan­demic has thrust Fauci, who has deep ex­pe­ri­ence in dan­ger­ous out­breaks, into a new role as the na­tion’s and world’s “trusted source.”

For his part, Fauci said his driv­ing force is “the re­al­iza­tion not only of the enor­mity of the prob­lem, but the fact that we can do some­thing about it. It is not an un­solv­able se­ries of prob­lems.”

He ac­knowl­edged the na­tion has been di­vided on its re­sponse to the virus and the pub­lic’s be­lief in what pub­lic of­fi­cials tell them.

Fauci him­self ap­pears to have run afoul at times of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who has ex­pressed skep­ti­cism about the se­ri­ous­ness of the pan­demic even af­ter he spent sev­eral days in the hos­pi­tals with the COVID-19, the ill­ness caused by the coron­avirus.

Fauci said he ad­heres to the data and science but ad­mit­ted that some­times there is new ev­i­dence that changes the story. He said he’s learned to be hon­est and trans­par­ent, and as MacKen­zie de­scribed it, “speak truth to power,” dur­ing four decades see­ing the coun­try through other in­fec­tious dis­ease out­breaks, from HIV to SARS and Ebola.

Proper and con­sis­tent mes­sag­ing dur­ing those out­breaks wasn’t al­ways easy, and Fauci said this time is dif­fer­ent be­cause this is a pan­demic not seen in more than a cen­tury.

The dev­as­ta­tion in re­cent months has been far wider than any other out­break in mod­ern times. There have been al­most 8 mil­lion cases and al­most 218,000 deaths in the United States, ac­cord­ing to data col­lected by Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity. World­wide there have been more than 39

Dr. An­thony Fauci

mil­lion cases and al­most deaths.

Even with sev­eral vac­cines in the works, it will be many months be­fore most peo­ple can ex­pect a dose, Fauci said. Even then, a vac­cine may be “60%, 70% or 90% ef­fec­tive,” mean­ing spread can con­tinue.

And that’s as­sum­ing peo­ple agree to take the vac­cine. Sur­veys show that large num­bers of peo­ple dis­trust the speedy ap­proval process and the safety of a po­ten­tial vac­cine. Fauci again said trans­parency will help al­le­vi­ate such con­cerns.

In the mean­time, with no vac­cine or even highly ef­fec­tive ther­apy, the coun­try doesn’t need to re­turn to full lock­down, he said. That doesn’t mean there aren’t hard de­ci­sions ahead.

Fauci said peo­ple should strongly con­sider the po­ten­tial costs to vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers of the fam­ily or com­mu­nity of hav­ing rel­a­tives travel, stay and eat in close quar­ters over the Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day.

It also doesn’t mean giv­ing up on reg­u­lar ad­her­ence to pub­lic health guid­ance. He said the virus could be well con­trolled and the econ­omy fur­ther re­opened if more peo­ple got on board with five spe­cific mea­sures: mask­ing, dis­tanc­ing, avoid­ing large gath­er­ings, spend­ing time out­side or in­doors only in well-ven­ti­lated spa­ces, and hand wash­ing.

“When­ever we talk about im­ple­ment­ing pub­lic health mea­sures, peo­ple think we want to shut the coun­try down,” he said. “We want to use pub­lic health mea­sures in a pru­dent way. We want to open the econ­omy and get jobs back. Pub­lic health mea­sures need to be the gate­way, not the ob­sta­cle, to open­ing the econ­omy.”

1.1 mil­lion

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