Dr. Anthony Fauci — the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — spoke to the NYTimes The Daily podcast this morning, and before we get to the substance of that interview, two things: 1) Fauci’s security detail has been beefed up because of the number of death threats he has received from conspiracy theorists, and by “conspiracy theorist,” I mean pro-Trump nutters who don’t think that Fauci is sufficiently loyal to the President. On that latter point, a call for a moratorium on journalists asking Fauci what he thinks of Trump’s response to the pandemic. We all know what Fauci thinks. He’s been fairly successful at sugarcoating it so as not to insult the President too badly, but this is one situation where we don’t actually want the smartest person in the room to resign out of protest or risk his job by standing up too sternly to our petulant President.
Let the man do his job.
To that end, on The Daily, host Michael Barbaro did make him dance a little regarding his opinion of Trump’s terrible response to the pandemic, and the great thing about podcasts is that we can’t actually see him roll his eyes or put his face in his hands, not that he’d ever put his face in his hands because that’s exactly how you get this disease.
In any respect, Barbaro asks the question we all want the answer to, and that is: When is this over? Again, Fauci fell back on a familiar line: The virus, not the government, will dictate the timeline. He does envision getting a handle on it in America in the next couple of months and snuffing it out, understanding that as long as the virus still exists in other parts of the planet that there is still a danger. However, he says, if it returns after we snuff it out, we will be better prepared by that time with an ability to roll out tests nationwide and hopefully provide some therapeutics. He expects, however, that we will not fully return to normal until a vaccine is procured.
However, he does not envision a scenario in which lockdown measures are held in place indefinitely until there is a vaccine, and it’s not exactly for the same reasons that Republicans have suggested, which is to say: Sacrifice the elderly and the immunocompromised for the economy. However, worldwide, there is a tipping point, when these lockdown measures begin to cause more devastation than the disease itself.
After speaking yesterday morning with colleagues all over the world — European, African, Australian, Canadian — Fauci determined that “we need to make sure to keep an eye on the balance. If you are too stringent in things like lockdowns and keeping things under wraps for a long period of time, you may have the unintended consequence of triggering from an economic and society standpoint, such disruptions that you get things like poverty and health issues unrelated to Coronavirus that are really a serious concern … many people need medications.
“Many people are dependent on supply chains for nutrition, for food, that they might starve … if you dramatically interrupt that to the point that it no longer exists, the disruption of society can be really quite catastrophic. That’s one of the things you want to avoid. That’s one of the pushbacks you have when people say you really need to lock down everything indefinitely. Well, you might get an extra mile or two out of suppressing the virus there, but you got to make sure that you look at what the ultimate issue is … let’s be careful that we don’t do such a disruption to society that we really hurt it as much or more than we’re trying to prevent.”
Supply chains and access to medications may not ultimately depend on baseball games, concerts, or clubs to maintain their existence, but ultimately, the economy will have to sputter back into place to ensure there is not broader devastation. But first, we have to snuff out the disease now, and that definitely means many more weeks of lockdowns across the country, and the lockdowns are working in Europe, although in the United States, they are only working on a region-by-region basis, because we, unfortunately, do not have a national lockdown. Again, that goes to a failure of leadership, but most of this does.