In a wide-ranging new interview with The Breakfast Club, Dr. Anthony Fauci shared his cautious plan for reopening the country, as well as tips for how American citizens can stay safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday (April 17) New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he'd be extending his Pause directive until May 15th. The Governors of Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island quickly followed suit. The news that the current shutdown would be extended for another month left many Americans uneasy. Though this is unfortunate news for the citizens of those 7 states, Dr. Fauci believes there are some regions in the country that can begin to open up again.
"Certain parts of the country are ready to take the first steps. You can't look at it like turning a light switch on and off," he shared on The Breakfast Club. "The program that we spoke about yesterday at the [White House] press conference is a very gradual, step by step [plan] where you have to fulfill certain criteria before you go to Phase 1."
"It really works. If you do that and [number of COVID-19 cases] starts coming down, there's no blips coming back, then you go to the next phase," Dr. Fauci continued. "It was built to be really, really careful about the safety and health of the American public. That's the first thing. It's gradual. It's not on and off."
While Dr. Fauci's plan to begin reopening the country will be a comfort to many, there are some regions, such as the wider New York area, that will be slower to open than parts of the country less affected by the pandemic. "I was on the phone 10 minutes ago with Governor Cuomo in New York. And New York has suffered terribly in this through no fault of their own. They are certainly not ready to do anything dramatic in pulling back," he explained. "Whereas you could go to a place like Wyoming or a place like New Mexico where they can already start tiptoeing back towards normality. It's not unidimensional. It's not like the United States is one homogeneous thing. It's very different from region to region."
When some regions begin to reopen, however, travel from areas with a higher number of infections to areas with lower numbers of infections will be highly discouraged in an effort to stop coronavirus from spreading any further than it already has. "That's the reason why, when we talk about travel, we say only essential travel that's necessary for a particular area to fulfill their functions as a society," Dr. Fauci shared. "If you look carefully at Phase 1, it still has a lot of restrictions. You have to stay 6 feet apart. No more than a crowd of 10. Washing hands carefully. Wearing masks. Even though there are people coming in, they have to make sure it isn't 'okay, guys, everything is open let's do it.' There's still a lot of restrictions, even in the areas where they have already taken those first steps towards opening. "
The entire process of completely reopening the country and getting back to normal will take at least a year and possibly up to a year and a half. "We won't have a vaccine for summer. It's more likely we'll have one for next winter," Dr. Fauci explained. Though he knows many Americans are eager for a sense of normalcy, he advises that, when taking steps to reopen, we must "strike a prudent balance" for the benefit of the economy and keeping the public healthy and safe. He also pointed out that keeping the country completely shut down for an extended period of time will have dire consequences for public health, as well.
Dr. Fauci also touched upon the comparison some people have been making between the COVID-19 death rate and the death rate of automobile accidents and cigarette smoking. He doesn't care for the comparisons because automobile accidents and health issues caused by cigarettes don't threaten to overwhelm our healthcare system. He also pointed out that we take a number of precautions to lower the risk of death for those things, which is what we're doing now for COVID-19. "If there's something that can mitigate it and keep it from getting out of control, it is worth doing. I don't accept what the model says is going to be the number of the deaths. If there's something we can do [to lower that number], then we need to do it."
As far as lasting affects of coronavirus go, Dr. Fauci explained that there multiple "syndromes" associated with the virus. "The majority of people who get infected with minimal to zero symptoms may not even know they've had coronavirus and will only know if they happened to get tested. There doesn't appear to be any issues with them. They clear it."
"Others get infected and the majority of them do very well. They get fever. They get chills. They get aches. They feel like [they've contracted] a really bad viral syndrome," he continued. "They don't really need any type of medical intervention of any note. When those people get better, they usually feel not great for a few weeks after. It's almost like a post-viral weakness and fatigue. They generally get over that and do well. We don't think there's going to be any permanent damage."
"About 15% of the people, who really get in trouble, most of them are elderly or have underlying conditions. Heart disease. Hypertension. Diabetes. Asthma. Obesity. When they get sick, particularly those that get put in intensive care, we don't know yet," he admitted. "We haven't followed it long enough. We've only been involved in this for a couple of months. Those people may have some long range difficulties, as anyone who required intensive care might. But most people do well with only a few weeks of fatigue after recovery."
When it comes to staying healthy during these trying times, Dr. Fauci recommends practicing a few simple things, including washing your hands, keeping as much physical distance as possible—at least 6 feet—from other people, stay out of crowds of more than 10 individuals and if you can work remotely, then you should. If you must venture out into the world, Dr. Fauci says wearing a face covering is a must. You can also try to make sure your immune system doesn't get run down by getting a good night's sleep, exercising and getting good nutrition.