White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci praised Gov. Gavin Newsom’s handling of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic during a virtual fireside chat with Stanford Medicine Dean Dr. Lloyd Minor on Monday.
The roughly 35-minute discussion steered clear of the political headlines of the day involving Dr. Fauci — namely reports that President Donald Trump’s administration is trying undermine him. But Fauci, America’s leading voice during the pandemic and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984, did offer commentary on the COVID-19 response by both the nation as a whole and California in particular.
“It is very clear, and you know this from countries around the world, that if you physically separate people to the point of not allowing the virus to transmit — and the only way to do that is by draconian means of essentially shutting down a country — we know that we can do that if we shut down,” Fauci said. “The Europeans have done it, people in Asia have done it. We did not shut down entirely, and that’s the reason why when we went up [in virus cases], we started to come down and then we plateaued at a level that was really quite high.”
Reopening in the U.S. has brought about surges in cases, which beckons the need to “drop back a few yards” in easing restrictions, Fauci said. He acknowledged the consequences of an economic shutdown, thus advocates for a gradual, phased-in approach.
“You don’t necessarily need to shut down again, but pull back a bit, and then proceed in a very prudent way of observing the guidelines of going step to step,” Fauci said.
When asked to grade the Bay Area’s pandemic response, Fauci declined, noting that grading would be “a little bit presumptuous” on his part. But he did have something positive to say about Gov. Newsom’s response, which has included a phased-in reopening approach. On Monday, Newsom rolled back the reopening timeline in response to a spike in cases.
“…I’ve worked with Governor Gavin Newsom throughout these entire few months, and he really has a handle on it, understands what he needs to do, and I believe is doing really a very good job, as are several of your mayors actually,” Fauci said.
The “$64,000 question” being debated right now, Fauci stated late in the interview, is whether the response to the coronavirus should have been dictated by the federal government or, as it is currently, handled by state governments. To that question, Fauci has “no firm answer.”
“There’s arguments back and forth, should the government provide resources, direction, guidance and then pull back and let the states do it? Or should they direct it federally? You could argue it on both sides,” he said. “We’re a big country. We have 50 states. We have 3,007 counties. So it really is an ongoing argument. And there are pros and cons of each approach.”
Fauci reiterated his confidence that “one or maybe more” vaccines for the virus will be available by the end of the year or beginning of 2021. He is also optimistic in the advancement of treatments for the virus, citing trials showing dexamethasone and remdesivir can significantly benefit patients with advanced disease.
What is really needed and we’re on the track of getting them, Fauci said, are interventions that can be given early in the course of disease to prevent people who are vulnerable from progressing to hospitalization.
“And those are direct antiviral drugs, convalescent plasma, hyperimmune globulin, monoclonal antibodies and a number of direct acting antiviral agents,” Fauci said. “I believe we are on a good track to get there reasonably soon.”
In the meantime, “physical distance, wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, washing hands — those things, as simple as they are, can turn it around,” Dr. Fauci said. “And I think we can do that. And that’s what we’ve got to do looking forward.”