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Fauci: US coronavirus deaths could be half of earlier projections because of social distancing

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 4/9/2020 Kathleen Miller
Anthony S. Fauci wearing a suit and tie: Dr. Anthony Fauci. © Chip Somodevilla Dr. Anthony Fauci.

US fatalities from Covid-19 may be as low as 60,000 -- far fewer than earlier projections -- because of safety measures such as social distancing, the nation’s top infectious disease expert said Thursday.

“The real data are telling us it is highly likely we are having a definite positive effect by the mitigation things that we’re doing, this physical separation,” Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC in an interview.

“I believe we are going to see a downturn in that, and it looks more like the 60,000, than the 100,000 to 200,000” projected fatalities, he said. “But having said that we better be careful that we don’t say, ‘OK, we’re doing so well we could pull back.’”

Deborah Birx, the top public health official coordinating the White House’s coronavirus task force, projected March 31 that as many as 240,000 Americans could die as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, even with another 30 days of the most stringent public health restrictions.

That analysis caused President Trump to retreat from ambitions to urge Americans back to work by Easter.

At Wednesday night’s briefing of the task force, Birx said that two prominent models for the US mortality for the Covid-19 pandemic -- from Covid Act Now and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington -- had been yielding decreased fatality projections based on what Americans are doing to mitigate the spread.

Separately, Fauci told CBS on Thursday that he sees the US making progress toward normalization in the near future, as the April 30 end of the currently mandated social-distancing period approaches.

“Hopefully, by the time we get to the summer, we will have taken many steps in that direction,” he said.

But Fauci cautioned that the virus has different progression rates in various parts of the US that may necessitate a range of timetables.

Fauci was asked if he can envision a summer where Americans are returning to beaches, celebrations, and other normal seasonal activities.

“Yes,” he said, “if we do the things that we need to do to prevent the resurgence” and “identify, isolate, contact, trace,” to avoid future spikes.

However, Fauci also warned not to assume the coronavirus will fade during warm weather.

Fauci told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that there’s precedent with other infections like influenza that “when the virus gets warmer that the virus goes down in its ability to replicate, to spread.”

But Fauci added “having said that, one should not assume that we are going to be rescued by a change in the weather. You must assume that the virus will continue to do its thing. If we get some help from the weather, so be it, fine. But I don’t think we need to assume that.”

He was asked about the New York Times story that research indicates the coronavirus that began circulating in New York in mid-February came mainly from Europe, not Asia.

“I think that’s probably correct,” Fauci said. He noted that “Europe became the epicenter pretty quickly after China really exploded with their cases.”

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