The nation’s top infectious disease doctor spoke with WTOP the day after a Thanksgiving weekend that was expected to add to the surge of coronavirus cases spreading across the U.S.
In Monday’s conversation, Dr. Anthony Fauci explained what the country and the D.C. area are up against, and detailed what people should be doing to protect themselves — and what they shouldn’t be doing.
Though travel was down over the Thanksgiving weekend compared with previous years, still more Americans traveled and gathered than had done so over the 10 months since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the U.S.
Fauci said, “We might see a surge superimposed upon the surge that we’re already in,” and that people in the area and nationwide “need to be prepared that there may be yet again another surge associated with people who have congregated at meals and had closed indoor settings — as well as people who are returning from having traveled and they’re now coming back to our area.”
He added, “We’re in a particularly vulnerable period right now,” given that health care systems in many areas of the country are stretched thin.
That said, he didn’t expect to see during the fall and winter the kind of widespread closures that dominated the spring: “I would only consider recommending that there be a lockdown if you are really, totally stressing the health care delivery system, which we [in the D.C. area] are not right now. But that doesn’t mean we can walk away from it and forget about it; we’ve got to keep an eye on it.”
Health care workers also need support and enough backup; otherwise, they won’t be able to properly care for patients.
Fauci added, “There are some regions of the country that are already in that precarious situation. And that’s terrible. We don’t want to get there from our area.”
So, what should people be doing to protect themselves, especially as winter starts? And are there any steps people are taking that don’t work as well as we thought in the beginning of the year?
Fauci emphasized the importance of taking the steps that have already been proven effective: “Just implement the simple public health measures that we talked about all the time. It’s not difficult to do. And we know that those countries and those states that have done that have successfully mitigated and turned the curve around. … We know it works. I mean, it has clearly proven to work.”
Fauci’s five steps to protect yourself:
- Uniform wearing of masks;
- Keeping physical distance;
- Avoiding crowds and congregate settings, particularly indoors, particularly when people are not wearing masks;
- Doing things outdoors to the extent possible, and
- Washing your hands frequently.
You’ll notice that heavy, deep cleaning of surfaces isn’t on that list. Fauci said that kind of cleaning “is important, but it isn’t the dominating modality of transmission.”
Everything helps, he said, but “you would not want to see … some facility spending a lot of effort on scrubbing everything multiple times, but doesn’t pay much attention to things like physical distancing, and wearing masks, and having hand sanitizer readily available.”
“Don’t confine yourself to your house.”
— Dr. Anthony Fauci
And doing things outside to the extent possible is a key factor in warding off the “COVID fatigue” that can lead to big mistakes, Fauci said.
“People need to understand that outdoors, particularly … if you wear a mask, and most of your community is wearing a mask, is safe; it’s healthy for you to do. I mean, there’s enough what we call COVID-19 fatigue going around; you don’t want to amplify it by feeling like you’ve made yourself a prisoner in your own home.”
So, take the precautions, but get outside. “For your mental health and your morale and your feeling that you’re not being a prisoner in your own home, it’s well worth going out. Don’t confine yourself to your house,” Fauci said.
Fauci said that most restaurants he sees “on my evening jog, or walk,” in D.C. are doing a good job of keeping their surfaces clean.
But, again, the question of getting separation and fresh air is most important, and it’s more challenging now that, after a warm early fall, the weather is getting colder.
Restaurants are building plastic tents and igloo-style enclosures for customers to eat outside, but Fauci said they can backfire: “If you’re in there with … people who are members of your immediate household that you’re going to be spending time indoors with anyway, that kind of enclosure can protect you from people who you don’t know who are on the outside. But if … you include people that are not members of your immediate household, that you don’t know what their status is, you’d better be careful, because the circulation in those things sometimes keeps the air in that you’d want to get circulated out. So, it depends on who you’re with.”
“Anything that can clear the air [is] extraordinarily important.”
— Dr. Anthony Fauci
The same thing goes inside your house. Fauci said he’s had to have people such as repair technicians over to his house, and the same principle of getting separation and recirculated air is the key to safe encounters.
He recommended household air filters: “If you go online, you could get a small unit [for] $49; you can get a really big unit for $150. They’re not exorbitantly expensive. And they can help. I mean, anything that can clear the air — namely a filter, an open window with a box fan that’s blowing stuff out. Those kinds of things are extraordinarily important. As simple as they may sound.”
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‘I already have a job’
The doctor has spoken highly of the possibilities for a COVID-19 vaccine, and he added on Monday that so far, the available evidence says that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 doesn’t mutate in the way it was once feared. As such, it’s not likely that a new vaccine will have to be formulated every year, like is done with the flu shot.
Fauci said he has spoken with Ron Klain, the incoming chief of staff for President-elect Joe Biden, “about things that might be thought about in the future, nothing specific, nothing substantive, more or less just a touch-base that hope we can have continuity.”
Referring to President Donald Trump’s continued false insistence that he won the election, Fauci said, “Hopefully, we’ll have a full transition, so we can exchange ideas openly with our counterparts.”
Asked whether he would consider a job offer from the Biden administration, Fauci said, “I already have a job. I’m the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and I’ve served six presidents in that capacity. And I fully intend to serve the next president in that capacity.”
WTOP’s Mike Murillo contributed to this report.