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Fauci says he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the fight against COVID-19

Fall and winter doesn't need to be a "catastrophe," Fauci tells Brown University

Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke Friday in a virtual conversation hosted by Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the incoming dean of the school of Public Health at Brown University,
Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke Friday in a virtual conversation hosted by Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the incoming dean of the school of Public Health at Brown University,Amanda Milkovits

PROVIDENCE -- Dr. Anthony S. Fauci said Friday that he is “cautiously optimistic” that if the country was united in following the basic public health principles to prevent spread of the coronavirus, the coming fall and winter could go well.

“I believe strongly that we do not have to completely lock down if we do things right,” Fauci said, during a remote interview with Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the incoming dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University. “If we do those things right, I believe we can open up the economy, get the employment back, get people out of the doldrums of being locked down -- if we do it prudently, carefully, and the way the guidelines say.”

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Those guidelines -- universal wearing of masks, physical distancing, avoiding crowds, washing hands, opting to be outdoors rather than inside, and staying away from bars -- are what will reduce infections and allow the economy to reopen, said Fauci, a member of the president’s coronavirus task force who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

For the country to win the battle against coronavirus, Fauci said, the country needs to pull together. The response, instead, has been haphazard, as some states moved immediately to reopen without caution.

“Anybody who says we are not living in a divisive era in our country is not paying attention to what’s going on in our country,” he said. “Instead of saying let’s utilize public health principles as a vehicle to open up the country, it was as if there were public health principles or open up the country. ... And they’re synergistic with each other. We really need to get that point across that one is not the enemy of the other -- one is a gateway to get to the other.”

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Is there time to change?

“I call myself a realist, but I’m a cautious optimist too,” Fauci said. “I think if we can somehow get the country unified to do that together, I don’t think we need to go into the fall and the winter thinking we’re going to have a catastrophe. We could go into the fall and the winter coming out of it looking good, if we do certain things.”

Is some of the divisiveness starting to melt? Jha asked. Fauci said the proof will show in how states respond when they see an uptick in their percent positive cases of COVID-19.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, analyzed the upticks in states and found that the rise almost never turns around spontaneously, Fauci said.

Which means states that are seeing a rise have to actively change what they are doing. “The proof of the pudding is, if those states that are starting to see the ticking up uniformly, instead of rejecting public health measures, uniformly does the five or six things I mentioned,” Fauci said, “then I think we have a clear pathway [to reopen the economy]. I really do believe we do.”

Rhode Island, for one, saw the beginning of an uptick this week, which led Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey to require visiting Rhode Islanders to quarantine. Governor Gina M. Raimondo announced Wednesday that the state will enforce social gathering restrictions and ordered bars to close at 11 p.m. Visitors from 33 states with high infection rates will be required to show they have recently tested negative for the disease before they can check into hotels or Airbnb rentals in Rhode Island.

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And in Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker on Friday announced a series of steps intended to keep the coronavirus under control, including a reduction in the limit on outdoor gatherings from 100 to 50 people.

There’s hope on the horizon for a safe and effective vaccine, Fauci said, citing new clinical trials to produce antibodies and other therapeutics aimed at the virus itself.

“Having been so deeply involved with the combinations in antiviral therapies that were literally like miracle drugs for HIV, I’m hoping ... that we come up with something, so as soon as somebody comes in with a positive test, bingo, you hit them with an antiviral and you’re done,” Fauci said.

“That’s what I see for the future,” he added. “Quite frankly, there really is no reason why we cannot do that. There’s no reason that’s not possible. Heck, if we did it for HIV, we can do it for coronavirus.”

Fauci will join Raimondo in a Facebook Live discussion Thursday at 3 p.m. to speak about how to reopen schools safely.



Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.