Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke before a House Oversight Committee hearing on Wednesday as the coronavirus outbreak reached new heights in the United States. Here’s a look at some of the critical points he made during the hearing.
‘It is going to get worse’
“The bottom line: It is going to get worse,” Fauci said of the coronavirus outbreak as he answered a question from New York Representative Carolyn Maloney.
“How much worse we’ll get will depend on our ability to do two things: To contain the influx of people who are infected coming from the outside, and the ability to contain and mitigate within our own country,” he said.
He indicated that containment and mitigation meant measures that include limiting large gatherings.
“We would recommend that there not be large crowds. If that means not having any people in the audience as the NBA plays, so be it,” he said.
The coronavirus is 10 times as lethal as the seasonal flu
Fauci threw cold water on the idea that, because the flu kills thousands of Americans every year, the media and authorities are overreacting to the threat caused by the coronavirus.
“The seasonal flu that we deal with every year has a mortality rate of 0.1 percent. The stated mortality overall of this. . . is about 3 percent,” Fauci said, suggesting that counting mild cases, the fatality rate could drop to around 1 percent. “It is 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu. I think that is something that people can get their arms around and understand.”
Fauci went on to say that the 2009 H1N1 pandemic was even less lethal than the seasonal flu.
A vaccine is still at least a year away
Fauci emphasized that a vaccine would not be ready to deploy for a year to a year and a half and said the US must rely on public health measures in the meantime to stem the outbreak.
“There’s a lot of confusion about developing a vaccine,” Fauci said. “Getting it into phase one in a matter of months is the quickest that anyone has ever done literally in the history of vaccinology. However, the process of developing a vaccine is one that is not that quick.”
The comments from Fauci stand in contrast to recent remarks from President Trump, who repeatedly asked pharmaceutical executives during a meeting on the subject last week whether the vaccine could be deployed in a matter of months, and whether the existing flu vaccine could be re-purposed to combat coronavirus.
‘It would be nice if the office were still there’
Representative Gerald Connolly asked Fauci whether he believes it was a mistake for the Trump administration to shut down a National Security Council office that worked on global pandemic preparedness. Congressional Democrats have accused the Trump administration of dismantling the pandemic preparedness office and are pushing legislation to set up such an office again.
But Fauci declined to criticize the administration.
“I wouldn’t necessarily characterize it as a mistake. I would say we worked very well with that office, it would be nice if the office were still there," Fauci said.
Asked by a reporter about the decision to close the office, Trump struggled to explain his reasoning for shuttering it.
“I just think this is something, Peter, that you can never really think is going to happen. You know, who — I’ve heard all about, ‘This could be…’ — you know, ‘This could be a big deal,’ from before it happened. You know, this — something like this could happen," he said.
Christina Prignano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.