Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a lead voice of the Coronavirus Task Force, explained in an interview with Science on Sunday that while we are rightly taking decisive action to attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19, we must not impose overly drastic measures that will result in “unintended consequences,” including other health issues.
“If you knock down the economy completely and disrupt infrastructure, you may be causing health issues, unintended consequences, for people who need to be able to get to places and can’t,” Fauci cautioned. “[I]f you lock down everything now, you’re going to crash the whole society,” he warned.
The comment came during an interview that devoted multiple questions that pitted Fauci against President Trump. Despite the interview’s overtly contentious title, “‘I’m going to keep pushing.’ Anthony Fauci tries to make the White House listen to facts of the pandemic,” Fauci largely defended the administration’s response, and framed it in terms of a massively consequential balancing act and series of compromises.
Asked about the state by state approach to “shelter in place” orders, rather than a federal mandate to all states, Fauci defended the administration’s response, warning that such orders cause a massive disruption in people’s lives and the U.S. economy, and thus create other potentially dangerous consequences.
“I’m curious about some things that aren’t happening on a national scale,” the interviewer asked. “One is, why are shelter in place orders happening state by state? Why are we doing this sequentially? Is that a mistake?”
“No, I don’t think we could say it’s a mistake or not a mistake,” Fauci responded. “There is a discussion and a delicate balance about what’s the overall impact of shutting everything down completely for an indefinite period of time. So there’s a compromise. If you knock down the economy completely and disrupt infrastructure, you may be causing health issues, unintended consequences, for people who need to be able to get to places and can’t. You do the best you can.”
“I’ve emphasized very emphatically at every press conference that everybody in the country, at a minimum, should be following the fundamental guidelines,” Fauci stressed. “Elderly, stay out of society in self-isolation. Don’t go to work if you don’t have to. Yada, yada, yada. No bars, no restaurants, no nothing. Only essential services.”
“When you get a place like New York or Washington or California, you have got to ratchet it up,” he continued. “But it is felt—and it isn’t me only speaking, it’s a bunch of people who make the decisions—that if you lock down everything now, you’re going to crash the whole society. So, you do what you can do, as best as you can. Do as much physical separation as you can and ratchet it up at the places you know are at highest risk.”
As Fauci referenced, several states, including California and New York, have issued “shelter in place” orders, mandating the shutdown of all “non-essential” businesses and government agencies, a move that has severely disrupted the economy and threatens to put millions out of work. The drastic measures in California and New York have been deemed necessary by the state governments due to the high-risk nature of the densely populated states.
Asked “what went wrong” with the federal response to the pandemic, which the interviewer characterized has having “failed,” Fauci, said, “I think we’ll have to wait until it is over and we look back before we can answer that. It’s almost like the fog of war. After the war is over, you then look back and say, ‘Wow, this plan, as great as it was, didn’t quite work once they started throwing hand grenades at us.’ It really is similar to that. Obviously, testing [for the new coronavirus] is one clear issue that needs to be relooked at. Why were we not able to mobilize on a broader scale? But I don’t think we can do that right now. I think it’s premature. We really need to look forward.”
This article has been expanded to include more details of Fauci’s response.