Anthony Fauci Doesn’t See Covid Summer Lull as Sun Belt Cases Swell
The coronavirus isn’t taking a summer break judging from its persistent spread in the U.S. Sun Belt, according to the nation’s top infectious-disease doctor.
Covid-19 cases continue to mount in warmer states including Florida, Texas and Arizona, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview. “It doesn’t look like there’s any significant impact right now from the weather,” he said.
Early in the outbreak, Fauci noted that hot weather tends to slow lung infections, and President Donald Trump predicted the pandemic would go away as temperatures rose. Any hopes that the U.S. contagion is abating now appear slim: a widely-watched indicator called R0 suggests that transmission is speeding up, even as the death rate from the infection starts receding.
As many as 31 states have R0 figures above 1, according to the Rt.live website, meaning that each person with the virus infects at least one other. Morgan Stanley estimates R0 for the entire U.S. stands at 1.1 -- a rate at which the epidemic would double every 52 days.
“This is a critical week for states where the Covid epidemic is expanding,” former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on Twitter. “There’s opportunity to get it under control, but we must lean heavily on masking and testing and tracing.”
Pence Warns of Young People Testing Positive
Governments around the world are seeking vaccines, treatments and other ways to smother the pandemic as it continues to stifle economies. Fauci is scheduled to testify in front of lawmakers Tuesday along with other leading health officials on the country’s response to the outbreak.
Last week, World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the pandemic entered “a new and dangerous phase,” noting that the number of new daily recorded cases had exceeded 150,000 for the first time.
Many scientists say a vaccine is the best chance to halt the pandemic. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is preparing to begin large clinical trials of a shot that it’s co-developing with U.S.-based biotechnology company Moderna Inc. next month. The effort is part of Trump’s Warp Speed plan to get doses to the country this year.
With as many as 28,000 new U.S. cases being recorded daily, the vaccine trials should be able to proceed as planned, according to Fauci. “From an epidemiological standpoint, it doesn’t look like this pandemic is slowing down,” he said. It’s always possible things would be even worse if the weather was cold, he added, citing the many unknowns about the new virus.
The Moderna vaccine uses innovative technology called messenger RNA that instructs the body’s own cells to make proteins that prepare the immune system to fight the virus. While some “anti-science, anti-vaccine” groups will likely oppose the trials, Fauci said he believes that there will be many people who will be willing to enter the tests.
The institute is planning outreach to communities to do vaccine education, Fauci said, as it has done with earlier experimental shots against HIV. The effort will take a variety of forms and involve “high visibility” individuals, he said, without naming any.
“I think if we do our job right and do considerable outreach, we’ll get enough people willing to participate,” he said. The U.S. also has testing sites in South Africa and Brazil. Both countries have large epidemics, with Brazil recording more than 1 million cases and 51,000 deaths.
‘Very Valuable’ Findings
In the meantime, treatment of Covid-19 appears to be improving, the doctor said, again likening the situation to the early days of confronting HIV, the then-mysterious virus that was spreading all over the world when he took the helm of NIAID in 1984. U.S. scientists are already considering combination trials of Gilead Sciences Inc.’s remdesivir antiviral and the generic anti-inflammatory dexamethasone, two drugs that have shown an impact in controlled trials, he said.
The Oxford trial that showed dexamethasone improves survival in severely ill patients was “very valuable,” Fauci said. “There’s a good chance that that will become the standard of care for people with advanced Covid-19.”
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.