As COVID-19 Cases Appear To Plateau, Fauci Warns Of More Deaths
SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
Ninety thousand more Americans could die from the coronavirus in the next month. That is the latest stark projection from the White House. About 166,000 Americans on average are testing positive for the virus each day. And while the Biden administration is trying to secure 200 million more doses of vaccines, it may be months before they're available. Dr. Anthony Fauci is President Biden's chief medical adviser on COVID-19 and the nation's top infectious disease doctor, and he joins us now. Dr. Fauci, welcome to the program.
ANTHONY FAUCI: Thank you. Good to be with you.
MCCAMMON: The CDC says COVID deaths are beginning to decline and that cases and hospitalizations are down, too. But we're also hearing this dire warning from the White House, about 90,000 more deaths possibly in the coming weeks. What prompted that warning right now?
FAUCI: Because, you know, the actual dynamics of the outbreak that even though you do see a diminution of cases, which we hope that that trends continue, but, you know, it is not guaranteed that that will happen. But just on the projection of the number of people who are getting infected every day, that if you just put the number of deaths, even as they start to come down a bit, you're still going to get to a really bad number in the next month or so. So, I mean, I know that can sometimes be a mixed message, but it really is not. We have so many cases and such a degree of infection that even when it starts to plateau a bit, it's going to take quite a while before you start to see really things coming down and the projection future - months or - excuse me - weeks or months from now to go down. So we are still going to see bad times ahead, even though it looks like we're plateauing.
MCCAMMON: Do you think we're past the peak?
FAUCI: You know, it's tough to tell for so many reasons because, as you know, if you look throughout the country - take California. They're dealing right now with an isolate that's a bit different that's giving them a lot of trouble. We don't know whether those types of, you know, mutants or variants are going to be arising in our own country throughout the country. And that's the reason why even though you do see a trend going in one direction, you've got to keep your eye on the ball because this is a very dynamic situation that's occurring.
MCCAMMON: Dr. Fauci, with these new, more contagious strains of the virus that we've been learning about that you've mentioned, you have said that doubling up on masks likely makes common sense. Is double masking something that the government might formally recommend?
FAUCI: You know, the CDC continually evaluates those kinds of things. Right now - and I was just speaking with the CDC director last night about that. Right now, the recommendations about that have not changed. However, you really want to emphasize that the first thing we want to do is we want to make sure that everybody consistently wears a mask. That's really step one. You know, obviously what I said some time ago about it makes common sense if you have a barrier that's physical, if you have a double barrier, you know, common sense tells you that two is better than one. But the formal recommendation from the CDC, which might change - that's conceivable. It might change. But the formal recommendation right now is just everybody wear a mask.
MCCAMMON: Right. And the Biden administration, as we know, is buying hundreds of millions of new vaccines. As you look at the latest data and the state of that effort, what is your best guess right now? How soon do you think people will be vaccinated in large enough numbers to get to that herd immunity and start to get past this?
FAUCI: Well, you know, it's very interesting. I'm glad you asked it that way because it sometimes gets confused. You have the priority list, the 1a, 1b, 1c. And when asked, when do you get to the point where the priorities have already been taken care of and you could actually start getting anyone who's anybody to get vaccinated, you don't have to be in a priority group, I have said - and I believe it still holds true - that that likely will be in April. But then the next question is, having said that, logistically, how long is it going to take to get as many people that you need to get herd immunity? And that's when I've said - and I believe it's still true - very likely by the end of the summer, in the early fall. And that would be about 70% to 85% of the population vaccinated. So you could start on that very likely by April. And I think, logistically, if you want to be practical about it, you'll probably get to that point by the time we get to the end of the summer.
MCCAMMON: And how concerned are you that that effort, even if it rolls out successfully in the coming months, will be setback or complicated by these new strains that are emerging?
FAUCI: I think that's a possibility, and that's the reason why we're trying to stay - and I believe we will - a step or two ahead of it. For example, as I've mentioned - and it's true - that it is concerning about the mutants that are in South Africa. Now, those are the kind of things that we want to be careful because given the situation about how we're a connected world, that we might have that here in the United States. The one in the U.K. that is clearly in the United States in at least more than 300 people in 28 states, it looks like the vaccine that we're using now could handle that quite well. However, it's more concerning with what we're dealing with in South Africa. So what we want to do - and we're doing it - is to go ahead and make a version of the vaccine, which is not that difficult to do, that might serve as a boost to directly address the one in South Africa just in case that mutant does become dominant in the United States.
MCCAMMON: Dr. Fauci, you've been vaccinated now, and I want to ask you a personal question, if I may. A lot of Americans will be wondering, once they get vaccinated, if they can behave differently at all. You've talked about your family on the show before. I wonder if you're feeling any more comfortable now seeing your daughters, for instance.
FAUCI: No, I don't think we have a free pass for that right now. The reason is several fold. One, when you get vaccinated, you are protected 94% to 95% against clinical disease. But we're not sure if you're actually protected against asymptomatic infection. And that's the reason why we want to be careful and continue to wear a mask.
MCCAMMON: All right. So you're still being pretty careful even around your own family.
FAUCI: I am.
MCCAMMON: Dr. Anthony Fauci, thanks so much.
FAUCI: Thank you. Good to be with you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.