Fauci: COVID-19 was ID physicians’ ‘worst nightmare,’ warns of potential airborne spread
During an International AIDS 2020 press conference today, Anthony S. Fauci, MD, said that, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the idea of a highly contagious respiratory illness was many infectious disease physicians’ “worst nightmare.”
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, noted that this is the third pandemic caused by a coronavirus. The others include Middle East respiratory syndrome and SARS-CoV-1.
“This is an infection that had to be controlled by very draconian methods, namely shutting down virtually every major country that was involved,” Fauci said during the conference. “Where we are right now is in a situation where the world is trying to get back to some degree of normality — and getting back to some degree of normality is opening up from the stringent public health measures that were able to control the virus in so many different parts of the world.”
Fauci also emphasized that the virus’s “protean manifestations” have been interesting and unique to the current pandemic alone.
“I have never seen a virus in which you have 20% to 40% of individuals who could have no symptoms at all, to individuals who get mild illness and do not need to go to a hospital, to people confined to their beds at home for weeks with multiple postviral syndromes,” he said.
Fauci emphasized the importance of suppressing the virus early on in its spread, as well as the key role of vaccine trials going forward. He also noted the importance of antivirals as a COVID-19 therapeutic.
“We desperately need antivirals that can be given early on in the course of disease to prevent individuals from going on to require hospitalization,” he said. “I would encourage further studies on this to nail this down in a randomized controlled trial.”
He praised the NIH’s clinical guideline group for maintaining a “living document” that physicians can access to learn about COVID-19.
Fauci described dexamethasone as a potential “standard of care” for patients with severe COVID-19 and those who are ventilated. He also noted that further research regarding the ability of children to transmit the disease is necessary because it will have an impact on decisions related to school reopenings.
“Schools are a hotly debated topic, in regard to making sure you get children back into school, because the ripple effects of keeping them home may be deleterious in many respects,” he said. “On the other hand, you want to make sure that you account for, care for and are sensitive to the health and welfare of the children.”
Fauci discussed the importance of testing standardization, stating that — while there is not yet “solid evidence” to confirm airborne transmission of the virus — a “reasonable assumption” that it may occur can be made. He also reiterated the importance of wearing masks and continuing social distancing measures as the pandemic continues.
“We know factually in those countries that practiced social distancing and the wearing of masks, particularly when we shut down, we saw how the number of cases have gone down dramatically — not only in the United States, but in any country that practiced shutdown and social distancing,” Fauci said. “We know that it works, but there is the pent-up need now to get back to some sort of normality. We have to overcome that need to do that prematurely, because when you do that, you see what we saw and are seeing right now in my own country.”