Anthony Fauci is not a man prone to exaggeration or wild speculation. This is another reason why everyone always listens carefully when America’s top immunologist makes a prognosis about the development of the coronavirus epidemic. This forecast sounds dramatic on Sunday: The United States would have to prepare for “millions” of coronavirus infections and possibly 100,000 to 200,000 deaths, says the director of the National Institute for Infectious Diseases in the CNN program “State of the Union”.
Fauci also adds that he thinks little of prognoses, because you can easily be wrong and mislead people. “Just look at the data (…) and don’t worry about these worst-case and best-case scenarios,” he says.
“We have a serious problem in New York, we have a serious problem in New Orleans, and we will develop serious problems in other areas.” Therefore, the stringent safeguards should remain in place.
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At a hearing in the US House of Representatives two weeks ago, Fauci refused to give concrete figures. “I cannot give you a realistic figure until we can assess how our response to the crisis will work,” he said to MPs, asking how many Americans could die from this new virus. “If we are complacent and do not take aggressive containment and preventive measures, the numbers will increase extremely and affect many, many millions of people.” So why is he now giving concrete numbers?
“The virus sets the schedule”
Fauci, who has been one of the most renowned infectious disease experts in the United States for decades, is tirelessly campaigning for protective measures such as the required waiver of social contacts to be observed. And he emphasizes that the crisis will last longer than many suspect.
At President Donald Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force press conferences and TV interviews, the 79-year-old repeatedly emphasized: “The virus determines the schedule.” You can try to influence the schedule with preventive measures. But in the end everything is down to the virus.
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In view of Trump’s controversial statements a few days ago that a relaxation of the partially rigid exit restrictions might already be conceivable at Easter, Fauci has emphasized on several occasions that it is too early for such announcements. First the slope of the curve, which shows the number of infected people, has to flatten out.
You can consider a specific date, but you have to remain flexible, constantly reassess the situation and also whether your own plans are realistic. Fauci says that he would only support the removal of protective measures in less affected areas if significantly more tests could be carried out there. But there is still a problem.
Trump’s turnaround comes surprisingly on Sunday evening
Fauci’s worst-case scenario is also shared by other experts. For example, a model by researchers at the University of Washington that is expecting the crisis in the USA to peak in mid-April assumes a total of at least 38,000 and a maximum of 162,000 deaths.
Trump still announced plans to review the exit restrictions next week. This Monday ends a 15-day Washington deadline asking Americans to avoid social contacts and stay at home to slow the spread of the virus.
As the economy, like everywhere else in the world, is suffering extremely from the measures and the number of unemployed has increased massively recently, the President has become increasingly restless and has indicated that the country may soon return to normal. An assessment that has been heavily criticized.
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But then things turn out differently – the dramatic forecasts apparently leave their mark on the President as well. On Sunday evening, Trump makes another U-turn: At the daily briefing, which was temporarily relocated to the rose garden due to the nice weather, Trump suddenly says that he fears that the coronavirus crisis in the United States could cost 100,000 lives.
If it is possible to limit the death toll to 100,000 through the containment measures taken, “then we have all done a good job together,” he says, adding: “This is a terrible number.”
Therefore, the guidelines on social distancing would initially continue until April 30th. He expects the number of deaths to peak at Easter – two weeks from now. After that, this number would “hopefully decrease very substantially”. His new announcement: “We can expect to get better by June 1st.”
Ambitious or reckless?
To justify his about-face, the president refers to a study by Imperial College in London that expects 2.2 million deaths in the United States – if no measures are taken to contain the virus. However, this study was published on March 16, and Trump does not explain why he is only now taking consequences. He only says succinctly that his mention of Easter was “ambitious”.
Ambitious – or rather reckless? Trump must not have missed the extent to which the crisis has intensified in recent days, when the number of deaths doubled within 24 hours. With nearly 140,000 confirmed cases and more than 2,400 deaths (as of Sunday evening), the United States has become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.
Especially in New York with the metropolis New York City, in neighboring states such as New Jersey and Connecticut as well as in southern Louisiana, the situation has worsened dramatically. The governors warn that their health systems will be overloaded in a few days and call for more support from Washington.
The Mayor of New York City Feels “Like in Times of War”
Fauci says 56 percent of all new infections are found in New York. The reports, especially from New York City, sound increasingly dramatic. Mayor Bill de Blasio compares the perceived situation in his city on Sunday with “times of war”. This crisis will continue for a long time, he also says. The doctors and nurses could not continue to work for weeks at the current pace and needed support. He could only guarantee that the hospitals would run smoothly for one week.
The “Comfort” hospital ship with its 1,000 beds, which set off for the state of Virginia on Saturday from New York, is now supposed to provide relief. Trump was personally there at the expiry. “You have the steadfast support of the entire nation, the entire government, and the entire American people,” he said to the New Yorkers.
Background information on the corona virus:
However, the president initially caused more confusion when he speculated on Saturday about the possibility of drastically restricting freedom of movement for people in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut in order to curb the spread of the virus. “Some people would like to see New York quarantined because it’s a hotspot,” Trump said. Before that, however, he apparently hadn’t spoken to his experts or to the governors of the countries concerned.
Trumps confused with speculation about a quarantine
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo immediately asked whether such a measure ordered by Washington was legally possible. “It would be a declaration of war on the states,” said Cuomo. Connecticut governor Ned Lamont warned on Twitter that confusion would only cause panic.
After consulting after all, the president gave the all-clear on Saturday evening: “A quarantine will not be necessary,” Trump tweeted. Instead, the CDC health agency released a travel tip.
The more than 30 million residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are encouraged to avoid unnecessary domestic travel within the next 14 days. This does not apply to employees in, for example, healthcare, financial service providers or the food industry.
But this request to do without unnecessary travel actually applies anyway – for the whole country. Let us look deeply once more “Dr. Faucis ”comments on this topic: He had“ very intensive discussions ”with the President about a possible quarantine, after which he refrained from doing so. It was important not to enforce anything that might create “major difficulties”. It is important to avoid unnecessary travel. “What we don’t want is people who travel from this area to other areas of the country and accidentally and unintentionally infect other people.”
It will not be the last time that Fauci exerts his influence in his own way. That’s exactly how he understands his job: Ronald Reagan, who appointed him head of the National Institute for Infectious Diseases in 1984, first had to convince himself of how dangerous HIV is.