As more U.S. states issue stay-at-home orders and the federal government recommends a 30-day period of social distancing, Dr. Anthony Fauci on Thursday suggested the need for a national lockdown, while acknowledging he does not have the authority to order one.
Nearly 40 U.S. states now have some form of a stay-at-home executive order, mandating the closure of nonessential businesses and encouraging residents to remain indoors unless absolutely necessary. But some states have been slower than others to implement the orders. They can vary highly from state to state, like exempting certain businesses and gatherings or making the orders only for certain counties rather than statewide, and they have varying degrees of enforceability. Some businesses have tried to skirt the orders by claiming their workers are “essential.”
NBC “Today” show host Savannah Guthrie asked Fauci in a Thursday interview if a national lockdown would be more effective “than this hodgepodge, piecemeal method.” Fauci, the country’s top infectious diseases official and a major fixture in the U.S. coronavirus response, agreed.
But he noted that states still have significant leeway “to make their own decision” in this situation and questioned some of the stay-at-home exemptions they’re allowing.
“I can’t make any official proclamations here, but I can say: Really seriously consider, are those exemptions appropriate when you think about what’s going on?” Fauci said. “And I urge the people of the leadership at the state level to really take a close look at those kinds of decisions.”
Fauci also said he agreed with the U.S. surgeon general’s assessment that the federal government’s new recommendations that Americans stay home and restrict activity for 30 days “amount to a national stay-at-home order.”
“That’s essentially what it is,” Fauci said. “This is inconvenient from an economic and a personal standpoint, but we just have to do it. That is our major weapon against this virus right now. We don’t have a vaccine that’s deployable. This is the only thing we have.”
To slow the spread of the virus, several countries — including China, Italy, Spain, France and India — have implemented some form of a national lockdown.
On Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who leads the state with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., acknowledged that a stringent lockdown like China’s would be impossible.
“If you have the same compliance that you had in Wuhan — Wuhan basically just locked up society — I don’t even know that if the federal government enacted the Wuhan model that the American people would comply,” he said during his daily press conference.
President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly praised his own disastrous response by trying to erase his earlier attempts to downplay the pandemic, has yet to issue a national stay-at-home order, despite calls from public health experts.
He initially suggested the state-level stay-at-home orders, business and travel restrictions and social distancing guidelines could be lifted as soon as April 12, claiming the country would be “raring to go by Easter.” He even suggested large gatherings in churches to celebrate the holiday — even though these are the kinds of events public health officials have warned against, given the potential for spreading the virus.
Earlier this week, Trump reversed course, saying that public health officials now recommend at least 30 days of restrictions.
On Thursday, Fauci said Trump is also considering a ban on domestic travel, but “no decision has been made.”
“We look at that literally every day,” he said on “CBS This Morning.” “It really depends on what city you’re talking about and from where you are coming. So this is something that you’re absolutely correct is on the table, and is discussed.”
Many states have reported new COVID-19 cases stemming from interstate travel, such as people fleeing a state with a growing number of cases and then traveling to another, therefore potentially spreading the virus and overwhelming hospital capacity in areas with fewer medical resources.
Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, who both serve on Trump’s coronavirus task force, said Tuesday that new models project the virus could kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans.
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