Fauci’s 2021 COVID forecast: reopening of schools, vaccinations

It was a gloomy December, and January wants to be just as dark as the coronavirus still ravaging California and the country.

In a conversation that was broadcast online on Wednesday, dr. Anthony Fauci, the US government’s leading expert on infectious diseases, talks to Gavin Newsom about why the pandemic is so difficult to control in California and across the US.

But he also gave hope for the future, outlining his latest estimate of when things could return to normal and whether schools could reopen safely.

Here are some thoughts from Fauci on what 2021 might look like:

Fauci said the coronavirus acts very differently from flu when it comes to children.

With the coronavirus, children appear to have lower levels of infection than the wider community.

“It was almost counter-intuitive, but it seems to be so,” Fauci said.

‘What we need to do is do everything possible to support the maintenance of the children at school. … If you really want to bring society back to a form of normality, one of the first things we need to do is get the kids back to school. ‘

Vaccines for the general public are distributed in late spring, early summer

The initial distribution of the vaccine among the highest priority group, including health workers and people in nursing homes, was slower than initially promised. But Fauci said there is a feeling that by January there will be greater momentum and that the rate of vaccinations will accelerate.

However, before the general public receives the vaccine, there are other priority groups that follow. It will probably be late March or early April before the vaccine is available to everyone.

At that point, the race will be to get so many people vaccinated through spring and summer, with the goal of getting everyone vaccinated by the time cooler weather arrives next fall.

‘Strong glow of normalcy’ by early autumn – if enough people are vaccinated

If the US is eager to get a lot of people vaccinated between April and July, ‘I believe … by early autumn we will have enough good herd immunity to be able to return to a strong appearance of normalcy – schools, theaters, sporting events, restaurants. “I believe if we do it right, we will be there by early autumn,” Fauci said.

No one really knows what percentage of the population needs to be vaccinated to interrupt the spread of the virus, Fauci said. He guessed it would be between 70% and 85%.

“If you have the chance to be vaccinated, please get vaccinated,” Fauci said. ‘It’s a safe and it’s an extremely effective vaccine that can save your life, your family and the community.

‘So I believe in these two things: adhering to the kind of things you talked about in California, the social health measures, and as we gradually get more and more people vaccinated, we’ll look at this. thing in the rearview mirror, ”Fauci told Newsom.

Failure to contain coronavirus would be disastrous for the economy

Some people consider the business constraints implemented to control the pandemic to be too high a price to pay. But Fauci said the pandemic needed to be controlled to get the economy back to normal.

‘We need to use social measures – as a vehicle, a gate, a tool – to get the economy back. This is not the economy versus public health. It is public health that commits you to getting the economy back, ”Fauci said.

The economy will reopen “if the level of infection is lower,” Fauci said. “And the only way you will reduce the level of infection before the vaccine starts is through the social health measures you talked about.”

Fauci also looked back at the challenges of 2020. Here are some key points:

Asymptomatic spread of the virus makes this pandemic much more difficult to control

The initial information that came out of China at the end of 2019 about the coronavirus was misleading, Fauci said.

Initially, the word was that the virus did not transmit effectively between people, which was ultimately wrong. The word was that it was mostly transmitted by people who were visibly ill.

The sobering reality was that even people without visible symptoms transmit the virus.

“It’s something to me that was the game changer,” Fauci said. “Because you can not just test people with symptoms, because you will miss the asymptomatic people.”

Secondly, it meant that mask wear became very important. “If you do not know who is infected, everyone should wear a mask, which is the essential reason to say that we need universal and uniform masks,” Fauci said.

A wide range of outcomes – from no symptoms to death – made it too easy to get rid of the virus

Fauci said he has never seen such a virus, where 40% of those infected have no symptoms at all, while 20% to 25% get symptoms that are so severe that they have to be hospitalized or die.

“The mystery of how you can have so many people who have no symptoms, and so many people who are seriously affected, is one of the reasons we have problems with the messages,” Fauci said. “Because most people who do well are young people, and they say, ‘What should I worry about?’ … So they said to themselves, ‘Why should I interrupt my life?’ ”

But the sentiment had serious consequences and was a factor in the worst death toll of any nation in the world – more than 335,000 deaths. And public health activities such as wearing masks have politicized.

In Los Angeles County, the cumulative COVID-19 mortality rate of more than 10,000 is now doubling the cumulative death toll from flu in the past flu season, which was 3,133.

It was the most politicized public health crisis in modern American history

The best messages about public health are consistent and simple. But the coronavirus pandemic has become so politically divisive that it has been very difficult to have a consistent message about public health, Fauci said.

It was even worse than the attempts to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS, public health crises to which political leaders in their early years did not pay enough attention. “It was nothing like the dichotomy we are currently seeing, which makes the implementation of public health measures and public health messages really difficult,” Fauci said.

The US should have done much better to control the pandemic

When asked by Newsom whether he expects the US to deal with a national death toll of more than 335,000, Fauci admitted that he thought the US would be in a much better place.

Even when New York was hit hard in the late winter and early spring of 2020, Fauci expected the country to raise coronavirus levels and for public health officials to figure out how to contain flare-ups.

But the U.S. has never reached a low baseline, Fauci said. Too many states abandoned home questions too early, and when the cooler came again in the fall, ‘we just went off the roof,’ “Fauci said.

‘What surprised me and really disappointed me was that I thought we would get a really low baseline as we had these little flashes, could do our identification, isolation and contact detection, and we would be in great shape , ”Fauci said.

“The only problem is that when you have … 100,000 community cases on a given day, it’s almost impossible to do effective identification, isolation and contact tracing,” he said. “So we’re been hit hard, and unfortunately California is currently being hit as badly as anyone, if not worse.”

We need to test even more

Looking ahead, Fauci said we need to look at schools with floods and to put together living conditions, especially with so-called antigen tests that are easier to process and that can be widely used in institutions like schools.

“If we just use this testing very, very often – in schools for teachers, even eventually, for the students, occasionally – you can get a good sense of what the penetrating infection is, and you can do something about it, said Fauci. .

‘We need to put a lot more emphasis on testing community surveillance, so that you get a sense of where you are – where you are at schools, prisons and old age homes. That’s the way to go, ”said Fauci. Because the virus is often transmitted by people with no signs of illness, you will not get it by testing only people with symptoms.

Colleges that have implemented this type of routine testing have found that this approach has been successful in maintaining low virus transmission, he said. This is because this approach identifies early-positive people and sends them into isolation until they recover, rather than allowing the virus to spread so widely that officials are forced to close campus.