Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, admonished Americans who have abandoned practicing personal mitigation measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus — asserting that such an “all or none” approach has contributed to a surge of new Covid-19 cases across the country.
“What has happened, I guess understandably, but nonetheless regrettably, [is] that people took the attitude in some places of either all or none. Either you’re locked down, or you just let it fly and you just ignore many of the guidelines of” social distancing, mask-wearing, abstaining from shaking hands and avoiding large crowds, Fauci told CNN in an interview that aired Monday.
“What happened is you see pictures on the TV of the fact that even in states that are telling their citizens to do it correctly, they’re doing that,” he continued. “There are crowds. They are not physical distancing, and they’re not wearing masks. That’s a recipe for disaster. It’s something I spoke about time and again.”
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, did indeed extol the importance of everyday preventative steps Americans could take to thwart Covid-19 in the early weeks and months of the pandemic, preaching frequent hand-washing and other efforts at once-daily White House coronavirus task force briefings.
But top public health officials and other senior members of the Trump administration have begun reemphasizing their federal coronavirus guidelines as the U.S. has recently experienced precipitous climbs in caseloads — including in the populous states of California, Florida and Texas — and the country as a whole has registered single-day records in new infections.
“This is a real call to action,” Health and Human Services Sec. Alex Azar told ABC’s “Good Morning America” Monday, encouraging Americans to “use face coverings when we can’t practice social distancing” and noting that while “we have a lot more tools now than we had two months ago,” there is still a “heavy burden on us in terms of our collective responsibility as individuals when we reopen.”
Azar declined, however, to endorse a potential federal order mandating the wearing of masks in public. Although former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has endorsed the proposal, administration officials have instead pointed Americans to directives on face coverings issued by cities and states.
“We’re a very, very broad country with different circumstances,” Azar said Monday, adding, “You don’t need a national mandate. What you need are local leaders determining the circumstances in that community.”
Asked Monday about the administration’s advice to states seeing spikes in Covid-19 cases, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany appeared to push governors to plow ahead with their plans for reopening, telling “Fox & Friends” that “this country can’t afford to stay closed.”
McEnany also argued the U.S. has “entered a different phase of this disease” and is now “catching people in the community, not in the hospitals at late stages” of sickness. “We’re at a place where we can handle the cases that we’re seeing,” she said.
But Fauci warned the federal government was not “doing very well” at contact tracing, the process by which health officials identify and isolate those who have come into contact with infected individuals, saying the disease containment strategy has been further complicated by the epidemiological nature of the latest outbreaks.
“Now we’re seeing the consequences of community spread, which is even more difficult to contain than spread in a well-known physical location,” such as a prison, nursing home or meat-packing plant, Fauci said.
“When you have community spread, it’s insidious, because there are so many people in the community who are infected, but asymptomatic,” he added. “It makes it extremely problematic to do efficient contact tracing, because most of the people who are infected don’t even know they’re infected. So how do you do contact tracing when someone doesn’t have any symptoms?”