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Fauci Warns Young Americans About Ignoring Advice on Social Distancing

Newsweek logo Newsweek 3/15/2020 Donica Phifer

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, made the morning show rounds on Sunday, answering questions from news anchors about the ongoing outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the United States.

Fauci, who is considered the top expert on infectious diseases in the United States and is a member of President Donald Trump's coronavirus task team, spoke at length during appearances on Fox News Sunday, ABC's This Week, NBC's Meet The Press, and CNN's State Of The Union. In each appearance, he stressed the importance of containing and slowing the number of COVID-19 cases, the official name of the disease caused by the new coronavirus strain.

However, while speaking to Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, Fauci also listed three reasons why COVID-19 is different from the flu or another virus when asked by Wallace to explain it to those who might not understand.

"One thing, it's brand new, so we don't have any prior experience about what it's gonna do, what its dynamics are gonna be," Fauci said. "Number two, it spreads very easily, there's no doubt about that. It isn't like some of the outbreaks that we had that just didn't adapt itself to spread among humans. And number three, it's very serious in the sense of morbidity/mortality, particularly among, and very heavily weighted towards, individuals who are more susceptible — the elderly and those with underlying conditions."

On Meet The Press, Fauci also cautioned younger Americans about ignoring recommendations from health care officials and government agencies at the state, federal and local levels regarding social distancing when show host Chuck Todd pointed to reports from France that half of the 300 patients in critical condition are under 60 years old — a statistic reported Sunday by The New York Times.

"Does that tell you that maybe we've made some assumptions [about the virus] that aren't true?," Todd asked Fauci.

"I wouldn't say 'that aren't true,' but the fact is that the data from China and the data from [South] Korea, we've seen a very, very small percentage of people who are younger [being infected]," Fauci replied. "As we start seeing new data of younger people who are getting in trouble, we want to look at that data and also look at the virus to make sure the virus hasn't changed."

Todd then asked if Fauci was worried that younger Americans aren't practicing social distancing "as much" because previous reports indicated that the risk is minimal, and they don't realize they can be carriers to those who are older or with underlying conditions.

"I think they should be practicing social distancing because even if — and I think it's still true that younger people are at much, much less risk of getting into trouble — that doesn't mean they aren't going to get infected and then they are going to infect the older people. So everybody should be taking really good care to avoid infection," Fauci said.

Mike Pence, Anthony S. Fauci, Deborah Birx, Ben Carson standing next to a man in a suit and tie: WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 14: Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks in the press briefing room at the White House on March 14, 2020 in Washington, DC. President Trump also told reporters he was tested for the novel coronavirus Friday night but did not reveal the results and said he did not know when he would get them. © Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/Getty WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 14: Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks in the press briefing room at the White House on March 14, 2020 in Washington, DC. President Trump also told reporters he was tested for the novel coronavirus Friday night but did not reveal the results and said he did not know when he would get them.

Read below for other answers to questions the doctor was asked while making the Sunday news show rounds:

"When will life get back to normal and how long does this last?' — ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl on This Week.

"You know, it's going to be a matter of several weeks to a few months, for sure. If you look at the dynamics of how outbreak curves go, you just need to take a look at China and take a look at South Korea right now. With China, they went to their peak and they are coming down right now. There were just a day or so ago 11 new cases in China, which is minuscule compared to where it was," Fauci said.

"Korea is starting to flatten and maybe come down a little. If you look at that bracket, all of that was a couple of months, a month and a half, for China and about the same [for South Korea]. Although you can't predict accurately, the way you interfere with that and not only diminish the peak of the curve, but even perhaps the duration, depends on the effectiveness in which you do the kinds of controls that we've been talking about -- the containment and mitigation," Fauci added.

For the U.S., containment and mitigation includes the shuttering of schools in at least 19 states and Washington D.C. to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Even West Virginia, the only U.S. state without a confirmed case of the virus, announced statewide closure of public schools on Friday.

Efforts have also included a travel ban for foreign nationals arriving in the United States from 28 European countries as the number of cases increase in that part of the world, and bans on large gatherings of people in states hardest hit by the virus as well as in some cities. Those bans, as well as a positive case of COVID-19 for Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, led to all major professional and collegiate sports leagues canceling games for the foreseeable future. The NCAA, the governing body of collegiate athletics, went a step further and canceled all championships through the spring sports season, meaning no College World Series for baseball or softball, or national track and field events, to name a few.

Slideshow by photo services

"One week ago, we were reporting 19 deaths, 490 infected. Today the count is at least 60 deaths, almost 3,000 infected and you say, as we heard, that the virus may continue to get worse for another two months. There have been estimates of hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. who could die or, in the worst-case scenario, millions. Can you tell the American people that that is possible?" — State of the Union guest host Brianna Keilar.

"You know it is possible because when you do a model you have a worst-case scenario, the best-case scenario and the reality is how you react to that will depend where you are gonna be on that curve. So, obviously we are clearly going to have more infections, there's going to be more problems with regard to morbidity and mortality. The challenge right now is how do we blunt that, I've said many times if you just leave it alone and left the virus to its own devices then it'll go way up and it'll come down naturally over a period of several weeks," Fauci said. "Unfortunately for our colleagues in Italy, in France, and certainly in China, that's what happened."

"In terms of contagiousness and lethality, worse than the flu?" — Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace

"Well, yes. I mean, it just is and we've got to face that fact, we've got to be realistic. We've got to realize, and I said that at the hearing, that things are going to get worse before they get better but the kinds of things we are doing now will hopefully mitigate that. You know, I showed that curve, that peak, but that's important because — to think that right now everything is going to be okay if you don't do anything, that's absolutely incorrect. We've got to really always be ahead of the curve," Fauci said.

"I say now in a way that people can understand—I'd like to be—the fact that we are criticized now for being over-reactive, cause when you are dealing with a virus outbreak, you are always behind where you think you are, so, therefore, you've got to jump ahead and stay ahead of the curve."

"Would you like to see a national lockdown, basically people — you can't go out to restaurants, bars, you need to stay home?" — Kellar, State of the Union

"I would like to see a dramatic diminution of the personal interaction we see in restaurants and in bars. Whatever it takes to do that, that's what I would like to see," Fauci said.

"What about travel restrictions? Are we going to see domestic travel restrictions? I mean we know we have hot spots, we have Washington state, we have parts of California and New York. Should there be travel restrictions?" — Karl, This Week.

"When we sit around with the task force, we talk about every possibility, travel restrictions within the country have not been seriously discussed. I mean, they've been discussed but not seriously discussed. I don't see that right now in the immediate future, but remember we are very open-minded about whatever it takes to preserve the health of the American public," Fauci said.

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