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NIH’s Fauci calls for “dramatic diminution” of personal interactions to fight coronavirus

Fauci said Americans “should be prepared that they’re going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing.”

Fauci speaks on the set of Meet the Press, red and blue coronavirus graphics flashing behind him.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH on March 15, 2020’s Meet the Press.
William B. Plowman/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

Americans need to be more aggressive in their approach to halting the spread of the novel coronavirus, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Sunday.

Fauci appeared on multiple news programs Sunday morning, and on each, he repeated a similar message: Americans need to do more to limit their social interactions to restrict the virus’s spread. He also said that young people are not inherently safe, simply because older and immunocompromised people are statistically at greater risk.

“The virus is not a mathematical formula,” he said on CNN’s State of the Union. “There are going to be people who are young who are going to wind up getting seriously ill. So, protect yourself.”

Fauci was also asked if he would like to see a national lockdown like those that have taken place in Spain and Italy — and he stopped short of expressing support for such a measure.

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

Rather than calling for specific governmental action to close down these businesses, however, Fauci called on individuals to change their behavior.

“We gotta make sure that the vulnerable ones are the ones we protect — the vulnerable, the elderly, and those with underlying conditions,” Fauci said on ABC’s This Week. “Those are the people that if you say, ‘Should you kind of stay in your house, not go to a movie, not go to a restaurant?’ … the ones who really shouldn’t do that are the vulnerable ones.”

With that said, however, on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, Fauci added that Americans “should be prepared that they’re going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing.”

Fauci says aggressive measures are needed because the situation is in flux

The Trump administration’s response to the novel coronavirus has faced significant criticism over concerns of poor coordination, delays in testing, and the president’s downplaying of the seriousness of the situation. As Vox’s German Lopez has explained, the administration has increased its coronavirus efforts in recent days but may have been too slow to do so:

The administration has in recent days taken steps to combat criticisms about its slow and muddled response to the coronavirus, with Trump giving a televised Oval Office address on Wednesday and declaring a national emergency on Friday. But experts say the damage has been done: The federal government is only now playing catch-up, as thousands of new cases of coronavirus are confirmed and the death toll steadily increases every day.

On Sunday, Fauci defended the steps the government has taken so far, but also said that the speed at which the pandemic is unfolding means aggressive action is needed.

“When people look at what we’re doing and say, ‘You’re overreacting’ ... If you think you’re in line with the outbreak, you’re already three weeks behind. So you’ve got to be almost overreacting a bit to keep up with it,” he told This Week.

And the administration’s recent measures are in line with this way of thinking. President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on Friday, freeing up $42.6 billion in emergency funds, and unveiled new travel bans on Saturday while also hinting at the possibility of domestic travel restrictions to come.

Fauci said the administration does not yet plan to institute restrictions on domestic travel, but said, “Remember, we are very open-minded about whatever it takes to preserve the health of the American public.”

The reason for this openness is simple, Fauci told This Week: “People need to understand that things will get worse before they get better. ... What we’re trying to do is to make sure they don’t get to the worst-case scenario.”