Image: Al Drago (Getty Images)
Dr. Anthony Fauci has assured us that things are going to get a lot worse for everyone if certain states don’t start taking the pandemic seriously. “I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 [cases] a day if this does not turn around,” he testified to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on Tuesday. Fauci also emphasized that to solely focus on the areas where cases are surging “puts the entire country at risk.”
Those areas currently experiencing surges include Georgia and Arizona, which allowed hair salons and gyms to reopen in April; Texas and Florida which allowed gyms to reopen in mid-May; and California, which allowed restaurants to open with social distancing guidelines in May. Texas, Arizona, and Florida are now considered epicenters, and, as of today, the United States has reached a seven-day average of 40,000 new cases.
When asked by Senator Elizabeth Warren, who called in via video conference, whether we are still “going in the right direction,” as he’d testified on May 12th, Fauci said, frankly, no: “We are going in the wrong direction.”
“Short answer to your question, clearly, we are not in total control right now.”
Fauci said that he’s “very concerned,” particularly about the four states “that are accounting for about 50 percent of the new infections” (Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California).
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“It is going to be very disturbing, I will guarantee you that,” he went on. “Because if you have an outbreak in one part of the country, even though in other parts of the country, they’re doing well—they are vulnerable.”
Fauci eluded to a cultural divide between adherents to government health officials and the rest of America (certain card-carrying members of the executive branch-and-sycophants fan club, perhaps) who’ve bucked the idea of social and personal responsibility altogether. “[Y]ou see people in bars, not wearing masks, not avoiding crowds, not paying attention to physical distancing,” he said. “I think we need to emphasize the responsibility we have both as individuals and as part of a societal effort to ending the epidemic.”
Fauci added that there’s “no guarantee” that we’ll have a vaccine.
The hearing had convened to discuss reopening offices and schools. In May, school reopenings seemed mostly out of the question until 2021: 48 states, Washington D.C., and all five U.S. territories had advised that schools remain shut for the rest of the year. But last month, summer school was allowed to resume in some parts of Pennsylvania and in a limited capacity in Illinois. The New York Times has reported Connecticut and New Jersey will allow schools to resume in the fall, and Seattle, Omaha, and Fairfax County, V.A. have planned partial in-person attendance.
Republican Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee bemoaned the fact that Trump can’t just put on a damn mask. “Unfortunately, this simple life-saving practice has become part of the political debate that says if you’re for Trump, you don’t wear a mask, if you’re against Trump, you do,” he said, adding that the president’s admirers “would follow his lead.”
But the chairman also said that his state has concluded that children’s mental health and educational needs outweigh the risks of covid-19. When asked for Fauci’s advice for school superintendents planning to reopen, Fauci replied, in the manner of a professor of Advanced Multivariable Calculus who’s had to explain the basics of addition seven hundred times, that the shortest route to reopening is following the guidelines.
“One of the things we’d like to emphasize, and have been emphasizing, is to take a look at the particular area of the so-called opening America again—are you at the gateway, phase one, phase two, phase three. The CDC has guidelines about the opening of schools at various stages of those checkpoints. The basic fundamental goal would be, as you possibly can, to get the children back to school and to use the public health efforts as a tool to help children get back to school. Let me explain what I mean. In other words, if we adhere to guidelines of what we’ve heard in many of the presentations you’ve heard about the physical distancing in the community, the use of masks, things like that—that will help to keep the level of infection in the community down, which will then make it easy to get the children back to school.”
To Fauci’s point, twelve states have had to halt premature reopenings after the pandemic has gotten worse than ever. But Florida, which is nearing 150,000 cases, hasn’t shown much interest in the national social distancing efforts. Republican governor Ron DeSantis has channeled Trumpian attacks on the media and declined to wear a mask against the advice of the state surgeon general, recently attributed the surge to an increase in the volume testing (a “test dump”), blamed the media for paying too much attention to protests. When it comes to protecting the health of the citizens in his state, DeSantis has done little more than stopping bars from serving alcohol and asking seniors to maintain “diligence.”
Yesterday, CDC Principal Deputy Director Dr. Anne Schuchat warned in an interview not to fall into the “wishful thinking” that the coronavirus has blown over in time for summer, adding: “We are not even beginning to be over this.”