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Dr. Fauci says US needs a national response to COVID-19 crisis, instead of ‘disjointed’ state-by-state approach

Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Dr. Anthony Fauci.Graeme Jennings/Associated Press

The nation’s top infectious disease expert on Tuesday described the need for a uniform, national response to the United States’s accelerating COVID-19 crisis, saying there are a number of fundamental things the country can do to mitigate the spread of the virus, instead of a “disjointed” state-by-state approach.

“The thing we need to get people to understand is that when you’re dealing with an infectious disease outbreak, the infectious disease, the virus in this case, doesn’t know the difference between the border of Louisiana and Mississippi or North and South Carolina,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said during an online summit with The New York Times. “It’s the country that’s involved, so we need to respond as a nation, not in a fragmented way.”

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Fauci, citing his 35 years of experience with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases through five transitions between six administrations, also noted a smooth transition between the Trump administration and President-elect Joe Biden’s team is particularly important amid a “very difficult public health situation,” describing the need to “transition to the team that will be doing this similar to how we’re doing it.”

President Trump has not conceded the election to Biden or begun the transition process, which has delayed the president-elect’s team from receiving information on the pandemic and national security issues. A Trump appointee, who leads the agency with the authority to begin the transition process, has not certified that Biden is the president-elect.

The US has seen a recent surge in coronavirus cases and recently surpassed more than 1 million cases in the first 10 days of November. A number of states have issued additional restrictions in response to increasing hospitalization rates.

When asked what fall 2021 might look like in the country, Fauci said the need for people to adhere to measures like mask-wearing and social distancing will depend on the efficacy of the vaccine and the willingness of people to take it.

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If there is an effective vaccine available next year, but only 50 percent of the population takes it, there is still a “considerable public health challenge,” Fauci said, because the overwhelming majority of would need to have received the vaccine “to return to some degree of normality.”

However, he said, a vaccine will not completely replace public health measures if the levels of coronavirus infection are not under control.

Fauci expressed optimism at the prospect of a potential COVID-19 vaccine, describing those produced by Pfizer and Moderna as “a huge advance.” Pfizer has said early data showed its vaccine to be more than 90 percent effective, and Cambridge-based Moderna on Monday reported early results showing 94.5 percent efficacy.

“As we get into the fall [of next year], we could be quite close to some degree of normality, certainly from the standpoint of the economy, of getting businesses open, of getting sports events being attended to,” Fauci said. “That is feasible.”

In order to get the majority of the country to take the vaccine, Fauci said politics needs to be removed from public health issues.

“This is not a political issue,” he said. “We’ve got to communicate that from above, from intermediate, and at the grassroots level. If one or multiple elements of the country don’t cooperate with an infectious disease, we’re going to be in trouble.”

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Amanda Kaufman can be reached at amanda.kaufman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandakauf1.