Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, refused to rule out on Sunday the possibility that certain areas in the U.S. may enter California-style lockdowns under a Biden administration.
The interview came as the U.S. recently passed 350,000 deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic and California has in recent weeks experienced a massive surge in new cases despite imposing some of the nation’s most stringent restrictions.
“Are we looking at a campaign when President-elect Biden becomes president, are we going to need to do another 15 to 30 days, stop the spread, maybe do a partial lockdown — between that issue and obviously what’s happening now?” NBC News host Chuck Todd asked. “And it looks like hospitals — they were overwhelmed in November. Dr. Fauci, what’s going to happen at the end of January?”
“Yeah. Well, I hope we don’t have to do the lockdown because of the — we all know, Chuck, how much Covid-19 fatigue there is of people just really being worn down with this,” Fauci responded. “But we certainly need to enhance and make more uniform our public health measures. President-elect Biden has called for 100 days of everybody wearing a mask uniformly throughout the country. That’s really a good start.”
“The idea about locking down is something that you might have to do, but you want to avoid,” Fauci continued. “In certain areas of the country, such as in California, which is really being stressed with regard to the hospital beds and the personnel who are really getting exhausted with the number of cases that are coming in, you may have to have, and they already have decided, on some form of lockdown in specific areas of the state or specific regions of the country. So that’s not out of the question. We hope we don’t have to do it countrywide, because we feel that if you adhere to the public health measures, you can turn things around short of a uniform lockdown.”
PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT OF NBC NEWS’S INTERVIEW WITH DR. ANTHONY FAUCI PROVIDED VIA NBC NEWS:
CHUCK TODD: Dr. Fauci, 2021 is finally here. But obviously, we are still dealing from the fallout of what life has been like in 2020. And I want to put something in perspective. The last time you were on this program was November 29th. And I want to put up the number of people who have died since then. It’s an average — it’s over 83,000 — and it’s an average of 2,300 a day in those 36 days since you’ve been on last, which is the equivalent of six to eight jumbo jets falling out of the sky on a daily basis. So here we are. How much worse is this going to get?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: You know, Chuck, it could and likely will get worse in the next couple of weeks, or at least maintain this very terribly high level of infections and deaths that we’re seeing. And the reason is that, you know, we’re in that situation that we predicted a few weeks ago as you get into the holiday season and people have done a considerable amount of traveling. There’s been congregate settings where people innocently and understandably were gathering for social and family get-togethers against the advice of public health officials like myself, even though it’s very difficult to do that when you have a family-oriented season. And then you have the cold weather, people doing things indoors much more than outdoors. And this is what happens. It’s terrible. It’s unfortunate. But it was predictable that we were going to see the number of cases that we’re seeing now. My concern is that it could get worse over the next couple of weeks as we see the lag that happens when an event occurs like the Christmas and New Year’s holiday. You usually have a couple of week lag before you see an additional uptick of cases, which is always followed by hospitalizations and deaths. So things are bad enough as they are right now with the numbers that you mentioned, which are really terrible. But it could get worse. Rather than sit back and throw up our hands and say, “Oh my goodness, it’s getting worse,” we need to double down on some of the fundamental things that we talk about all the time, Chuck — the uniform wearing of masks, the physical distancing and the avoiding of congregate settings and crowds, particularly indoors. We’ve just got to keep doing that.
CHUCK TODD: I’ve got to ask you, with the combination of the more virulent strain that’s out there that may be — and we’re still learning more, and I know you don’t have full answers to this either — but it may essentially mean that a contagious person infects five people instead of two or something like that, are we looking at a campaign when President-elect Biden becomes president, are we going to need to do another 15 to 30 days, stop the spread, maybe do a partial lockdown — between that issue and obviously what’s happening now? And it looks like hospitals — they were overwhelmed in November, Dr. Fauci, what’s going to happen at the end of January?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Yeah. Well, I hope we don’t have to do the lockdown because of the — we all know, Chuck, how much Covid-19 fatigue there is of people just really being worn down with this. But we certainly need to enhance and make more uniform our public health measures. President-elect Biden has called for 100 days of everybody wearing a mask uniformly throughout the country. That’s really a good start. The idea about locking down is something that you might have to do, but you want to avoid. In certain areas of the country, such as in California, which is really being stressed with regard to the hospital beds and the personnel who are really getting exhausted with the number of cases that are coming in, you may have to have, and they already have decided, on some form of lockdown in specific areas of the state or specific regions of the country. So that’s not out of the question. We hope we don’t have to do it countrywide, because we feel that if you adhere to the public health measures, you can turn things around short of a uniform lockdown.
CHUCK TODD: Let’s talk about this mutated strain here. Your level of concern about it, and I assume you’re, like most other officials, you have to assume it’s already running wild in this country. How long will it take you to know more about the danger of this new strain?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, we’re certainly following it very carefully and closely and taking it very seriously. A lot of experience is coming out of the United Kingdom, of England, which have had this right now dominating the spread of virus throughout their country. We’ve isolated multiple examples of the mutant being in this country. So there’s no doubt it’s here. And there’s no doubt, given the efficiency of its ability to spread, that it’s going to spread. What we’re hearing from our U.K. colleagues is that, although it does transmit much more readily than the standard strain, it does not appear to be more virulent, namely making people sicker or greater incidence of dying. Nor does it seem to elude the protection that’s offered by the antibodies that are induced by the vaccine. But we want to find that out for ourselves. So, I mean, we understand the data from the U.K. They’re very good. They know what they’re doing, but we’re going to study this very carefully ourselves. Bottom line, Chuck, getting back to what we mentioned a moment ago, the best way to counter this is to do the public health measures that prevent spread. That’s the point. Regardless of what kind of strain you have circulating out there, you’ve got to adhere to the public health measures. And that will stop the spread of any strain.
CHUCK TODD: Let’s talk about the vaccination process right now. You called the — you yourself have already called the rollout disappointing. We’re obviously well short of the 20 million vaccination goal. You and I talked about this a month ago. And you had had a lot of confidence in the vaccination system in this country would really kick in and work. What is your explanation of why this, why the government’s promise fell so far short?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, Chuck, you know, you have to look at it. There are multiple stages of this. There’s the allocation. There’s the shipping. There’s the distribution and there’s, finally, getting in people’s arms. I had a conversation a couple of days ago with General Perna who was explaining that they had allocated 20 million. That’s good. They’ve shipped about 14 million and have distributed mainly to the individual clinics and hospitals and places who are going to be, who are going to be putting it in people’s arms to about 13 million. They had promised it was going to be 20. I asked why we’re not at 20, and there was certainly a bit of a glitch, which he explained. But as we get into the first couple of days and first week of January, very likely we’re going to hit that 20. So we’re going to be somewhat behind by a few days. The real issue is getting it into people’s arms. So we now have about four million, which is obviously below where we want to be. But if you look at the last 72 hours, there’s been about 1.5 million administered into people’s arms, which is an average of about 500,000 a day, which is better than what that four million over 20 million proportion tells you. So what I’m saying right now is that, A, we’re not where we want to be. We’ve got to do much better. But B, let’s give it about a week or two into January to see if we can pick up momentum that was slowed down by the holiday season. So again, no excuses. We’re not where we want to be. But hopefully, we’ll pick up some momentum and get back to where we want to be with regard to getting it into people’s arms.
CHUCK TODD: A handful of other countries, Dr. Fauci, have decided not to hold back a second dose and fully vaccinate, but essentially, hey, use all the vaccinations that you got, get as many people a first shot as you can, and we’ll worry about the second shot, well, when we get the second shot. We’re not doing that. Where is your head on that? And is there a point where you might say, “Look, I’m not fully in favor of it, but maybe it’s better than a lockdown”?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Okay. First of all, this related to a lockdown has nothing to do with a lockdown. I can tell you that. So let me tell you where we are, Chuck. It’s obviously a question that everyone’s asking. The issue of giving it to people and not having a guarantee you’re going to get a second shot goes against the science. We want to do it according to the science. You give a first dose. If you have a Pfizer, 21 days later, you get a boost. If you have the Moderna, 28 days later, you get the boost. The idea about stretching it out so you can give more people, that’s if you have not enough vaccine and you have a lot of people lined up waiting to get a vaccine. That’s not our problem now. We have vaccine. We need to get it into people’s arms. So it really is the right solution to the wrong question. Right now, if we do it efficiently the way we’ve planned, it’s much better than trying to stretch it out and not having a scientific basis of knowing what happens if you wait, instead of 28 days, you wait 50 or 70. We don’t know whether or not that’s going to be good enough. We know what the science tells us. So my feeling and my direct answer to your question, Chuck, is let’s do it the way the clinical trials have instructed us to do it. But let’s get more efficient into getting it into people’s arms.
CHUCK TODD: And final question, the president tweeted just before you came on questioning the death toll, saying the CDC massively overcounts the death toll. Many experts have told me we’re undercounting the death toll. Where are we on, on this death toll? It’s over 350,000. Are we overcounting in this country or undercounting, Dr. Fauci?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: The numbers are real, Chuck. You know, you’re going to have some deviation, plus or minus a bit. But the numbers are real. We have well over 300,000 deaths. We’re averaging 2,000 to 3,000 deaths per day. All you need to do, Chuck, is go into the trenches, go into the hospitals, go into the intensive care units and see what is happening. Those are real numbers, real people and real deaths.
CHUCK TODD: Dr. Fauci, as always, sir, thank you. Happy New Year. 2021 couldn’t get here fast enough. And let me just say for a lot of us, we can’t wait to get those vaccines. And I see you took one and you’re fine, correct?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: I’m good. I’m fine. Very, very little problem. Just a little ache in the arm and that was it. We’re good.