At the Hill’s Future of Healthcare Summit last year, the outlet’s editor-at-large Steve Clemons asked Dr. Anthony Fauci to describe his nightmare public health scenario. His answer: “[A] respiratory borne illness that spreads rapidly, that’s new, mainly, there’s no background immunity in the population, and that almost turns out to be a brand new pandemic influenza.”
The nation’s leading infectious disease expert went on to say that “when you have a respiratory illness that easily spreads, and has a high degree of morbidity and some degree of mortality, you could have a public health catastrophe.”
Fauci’s worst-case prediction has since come true with the ongoing covid-19 pandemic (minus the influenza bit, of course), prompting an apology during his appearance at this year’s summit on Thursday.
“I’m so sorry that I was so prescient when we had our last interview, Steve,” he told Clemons per Business Insider. “I really am very sorry about that. When we had our conversation last year, I said this is what I would be most worried about. I’m so sorry that it occurred, and occurred so quickly after that interview.”
To date, the United States has recorded more than 3.1 million cases of covid-19 and 133,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus research center. America accounts for roughly one-fourth of covid-19 cases worldwide, making it the worst-hit nation by far, in part due to a beleaguered and inconsistent federal public health response that saw nationwide testing shortages in the pandemic’s pivotal early stages.
“Not to be hyperbolic about it—it really is the perfect storm and (an) infectious disease and public health person’s worst nightmare. It’s a spectacularly transmissible virus,” Fauci continued at the Hill’s summit. “The efficiency with which this transmits is really striking.”
To this point, several states have put a moratorium on their premature reopening plans after a surge of new cases. However, even among these dire terms, Fauci fell short of recommending a return to statewide shelter-in-place orders. Instead, he suggested to Clemons that “we need to get states pausing in their opening process.”
In testimony delivered to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions last month, Fauci warned that the U.S. could see up to 100,000 new cases per day if states don’t begin taking health precautions aimed at curbing the spread of the virus seriously. At the time, he said he was “very concerned” about four states that account for roughly 50%of the new cases pouring in—Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California.
On Thursday, Fauci particularly condemned Florida, which has continued to go through with planned reopenings of theme parks and beaches for the summer season despite skyrocketing cases numbers, during his appearance on FiveThirtyEight’s weekly podcast on covid-19.
“There are some times when despite the guidelines and the recommendations to open up carefully and prudently, some states skipped over those and just opened up too quickly,” Fauci said, adding that Florida had especially “jumped over a couple of checkpoints.”
His remarks are a stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s, who has repeatedly responded to the pandemic with glib derision, skepticism, and racism. One could argue that continuing to hold presidential plague rallies while the administration preaches the merits of stalling reopening plans may send mixed signals to states trying to navigate this international crisis safely.
Just a thought.