During an hour-long discussion last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci – viewed as America’s most trusted public voice on the coronavirus crisis – offered a series of candid assessments that surprised even his own boss at the National Institutes of Health.
“Wow,” NIH director Dr. Francis Collins said after Fauci told him the travel bans established by the U.S. government several weeks ago should remain in place long after the virus itself recedes inside the country.
"We need to be really careful [that] when we do try to reemerge to normality, that we don’t just lift all the travel restrictions,” Fauci told Collins said during their conversation, which was organized by NIH for its employees.
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Videos of their discussion were posted to YouTube on Friday.
At one point, Fauci – whom Collins recently called a “hero” and “truth-teller” – conceded that even if a vaccine is available next year, "I don’t think we’ll have enough doses for everyone.”
Fauci also shared some details about certain exchanges with President Donald Trump, saying that when the president drafts remarks for coronavirus-related press conferences, the president “almost always” ignores Fauci’s suggested edits.
And there was his admission that early on in the crisis, Fauci continued to use Washington’s subway system to get to the White House each day.
“When the White House heard that, they went completely nuts,” Fauci said with a heavy laugh.
He also described meetings inside the Situation Room at the White House where the economic impact of the crisis is often highlighted by officials like Trump adviser Larry Kudlow and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
"They talk about how badly you can hurt the economy before it doesn’t ever come back. I don’t believe them," he said with another chuckle. "I think it’s going to come back no matter what ... What we’re [navigating now] is how can we get people back into work without endangering their health."
Fauci said his own work has been “grueling” – working 20-hour days – but, “I’m sucking it up because you got to do it.”
In fact, he’s dealing with serious and significant matters of life and death, as reflected in much of his conversation with Collins.
He said that “as much as it hurts the economy, no movies, no theaters, no restaurants, no congregation at sports events” is having “a dramatic effect.”
But the effectiveness of other measures frequently promoted by some online and elsewhere is up for debate, according to Fauci.
“How effective is a mask in preventing you from getting infected?” he asked rhetorically. “It is not 100 percent – it is probably closer to 50 percent. But 50 percent is better than nothing.”
He said there is “no evidence at all” that the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, just approved by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use against coronavirus, and pushed by Trump, actually “has any effect.”
Fauci said that – despite the lack of scientific evidence to support its use against coronavirus – he understands the excitement behind the drug. After all, according to him, “a storm of information and misinformation,” including “anecdotal stories based on nothing,” falsely depicted hydroxychloroquine “as a knockout drug.”
During the conversation last week, Fauci and Collins discussed whether a “second wave” of coronavirus could hit after business start reopening and people start moving around again.
Addressing that question, Fauci offered what he called an “unbelievable” fact: Now that China is “coming out of their restraints, they’re starting to see [new] cases,” but it’s not coming from the Chinese people.
It’s coming from people outside China who are now able to travel to China.
Fauci emphasized "the irony of it," noting that “China started" the coronavirus crisis, "seeded others, and now they’re getting it back.”
“I think that’s an important lesson for us,” he told Collins. “Because I think we saved ourselves a couple of bullets by very actively and early on doing travel restrictions from China.”
And now, he added, “Europe is the new China,” with more cases now in Italy than China ever had.
“So we need to be really careful about when we do try to reemerge to normality, that we don’t just lift all the travel restrictions,” Fauci said.
Collins responded: “That means we’re going to have … real serious [border] closures to think about for a long time.”
“Right, I think so,” Fauci said.