Anthony Fauci, one of the country’s top infectious disease experts, said Sunday that imposing social distancing measures earlier to curb the spread of the coronavirus, as he reportedly recommended to the White House in February, “could have saved lives.”
During an appearance on CNN’s “State Of The Union,” Fauci was asked why President Donald Trump didn’t announce such guidelines until mid-March. Fauci and other health experts on the White House’s coronavirus task force reportedly pushed the president to implement them as early as Feb. 21.
“As I’ve said many times, we look at it from a pure health standpoint,” Fauci said. “We make a recommendation. Often the recommendation is taken. Sometimes it’s not. But it is what it is. We are where we are right now.”
Host Jake Tapper asked whether lives could have been saved if social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders had been announced earlier.
“It’s very difficult to go back and say that,” Fauci said. “I mean, obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives. Obviously, no one is going to deny that. But what goes into those kinds of decisions is complicated.”
“But you’re right,” he added. “Obviously, if we had right from the beginning shut everything down it may have been a little bit different. But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then.”
Responding to Fauci’s comments, White House spokesman Judd Deere took aim at “the media and Democrats,” and said Trump had taken “bold action to protect Americans.”
“While the media and Democrats refused to seriously acknowledge this virus in January and February,” Deere said in a statement, “President Trump took bold action to protect Americans and unleash the full power of the federal government to curb the spread of the virus, expand testing capacities, and expedite vaccine development when we had no true idea the level of transmission or asymptomatic spread.”
“The president remains completely focused on the health and safety of the American people and it is because of his bold leadership that we will emerge from this challenge healthy, stronger, and with a prosperous and growing economy,” he added.
Both Democratic and Republican governors, as well as health care professionals across the country, have criticized the federal government’s slow response to the pandemic. Despite warnings from public health officials, Trump downplayed the potential threat to Americans in February and into early March.
Of the world’s more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, over 530,000 have been reported in the U.S. The country’s death toll has doubled from roughly 10,000 to more than 20,000 in less than a week.
Thomas Inglesby, the director of the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University’s school of public health, said during an interview with “Fox News Sunday” that the U.S. would have been in a “better position” had it heeded public health officials’ warnings earlier.
“I can’t say who in the administration knew what and when,” Inglesby said. “But I would say that that article reinforces what we’ve heard along the way, which is that many in the administration were very worried about this as early as January and February. That seems pretty clear now.”
“I would also say that if we had acted on some of those warnings earlier, we’d be in a much better position in terms of diagnostics and possibly masks and personal protective equipment and getting our hospitals ready,” he added.
Fauci said Sunday that he has “cautious optimism” about signs that the number of confirmed cases across some parts of the country may be starting to slow. However, he warned against easing restrictions and reopening the economy too soon.
“You want to make sure you don’t do something prematurely and precipitously,” he said. “At the same time, you pay attention to the need to try and get back to normal.”
CNN’s Tapper asked Fauci if he believes it will be safe for Americans to physically vote at the polls in November. The doctor said he hopes so but couldn’t make a guarantee.
“I believe that if we have a good, measured way of rolling into [these] steps towards normality, then we hope by the time we get to November that we’ll be able to do it in a way which is the standard way,” Fauci said.
“However, and I don’t want to be the pessimistic person, there is always a possibility that as we get into next fall and the beginning of early winter that we could see a rebound,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to respond to that rebound in a much more effective way than what we’ve seen now in January, February, March.”
This story has been updated with comment from the White House.
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