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White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci is no longer buying into the stay-at-home fears amid the coronavirus pandemic and warned that continued restrictions could cause “irreparable damage.”
The immunologist and member of President Trump’s coronavirus task force cautioned in a CNBC interview Friday that “staying locked down” for a longer time could be counter-productive in the efforts to combat the effects of the virus in the U.S.
“We certainly want, in a cautious way, to reopen,” Fauci told CNBC, noting the specific circumstances being dictated in each local area.
“We can’t stay locked down for such a considerable period of time that you might do irreparable damage and have unintended consequences, including consequences for health,” he said, adding that “we are enthusiastic about reopening.”
“I don’t want people to think that any of us feel that staying locked down for a prolonged period of time is the way to go,” Fauci said.
The more stringent restrictions on gatherings, staying at home and other measures initially implemented when the COVID-19 breakout began were necessary at that time to stem the spread of the pandemic, he explained.
“But now is the time, depending upon where you are and what your situation is, to begin to seriously look at reopening the economy, reopening the country to try to get back to some degree of normal,” Fauci said, while still cautioning states and local governments to use “very significant precautions” as they begin to lift restrictions.
“In general, I think most of the country is doing it in a prudent way,” he said. “There are obviously some situations where people might be jumping over that. I just say please proceed with caution if you’re going to do that.”
Fauci’s remarks appeared to be a reversal of recent comments when he had appeared to urge stricter measures. In his testimony before a Senate committee last week, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases warned that opening businesses too soon would “result in needless suffering and death.”
The rush to reopen could also stymie efforts by states “on the road to try to get back to an economic recovery,” Fauci noted.
“It would almost turn the clock back rather than going forward. That is my major concern,” he told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
But earlier on Friday, Fauci appeared more optimistic as he told NPR it was “conceivable” that a coronavirus vaccine could be available in the U.S. by December.
“Back in January of this year when we started the phase one trial, I said it would likely be between a year and 18 months before we would have a vaccine,” he said during an interview on NPR. “I think that schedule is still intact.
“I think it is conceivable,” he added, “if we don’t run into things that are, as they say, unanticipated setbacks, that we could have a vaccine that we could be beginning to deploy at the end of this calendar year, December 2020, or into January 2021.”
Fauci had come under fire recently for repeated warnings about reopening even as the president was advocating cautious first steps for states to begin to roll back restrictions on Americans. Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona slammed Fauci in an op-ed in USA Today, accusing him of pushing a “one-size-fits-all approach.”
“Fauci and company have relied on models that were later found to be deficient. He even has suggested that he can’t rely on any of the models, especially if the underlying assumptions are wrong,” the lawmakers wrote. “Yet, Fauci persists in advocating policies that have emasculated the medical care system and ruined the economy.”
While acknowledging his medical expertise in general, Paul and Biggs said they “disagree that his current positions on the virus outbreak provide the best path forward.”
“Fauci claims his message has been consistent, but it is contrary to that of the administration he works for,” they wrote, adding that perhaps as a “medical bureaucrat in far-away Washington” he is unable to “empathize with the millions of Americans” who have been impacted by repercussions in their economic status and health.
“In the end, Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx, and others seek to corral our freedom, just as the American people and many of our elected leaders are finding ways to open our society,” the op-ed concluded. “We must forge ahead even as Fauci tries to brush away the optimism of the president and the American people.”
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