Dr. Anthony Fauci had two main messages for Vermonters on Tuesday: great work so far, and don’t let up.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, took questions from reporters for about 30 minutes during Gov. Phil Scott’s press conference.
“The message that I’d like all of the citizens of the state to hear is that this virus is a formidable foe. If you give it an opportunity to reemerge its ugly head, whether you’re in the beautiful rural area of Vermont or in the middle of Manhattan or the Bronx, that virus is going to take advantage of that,” Fauci said.
“This becomes particularly important as we enter the colder season of the fall in the winter, so good question,” he added. “Let’s everybody keep our guard up and not be complacent.”
Scott started the press conference boasting about Vermont’s 0.2% positivity rate for Covid-19 tests, the lowest in the country. Fauci said Vermont was an example of what he has been preaching for months: the first step in reopening the economy and school is getting the virus under control.
“Notwithstanding that you’re a small state, but it should be the model of how you get to such a low test positivity, that you can actually start opening up the economy in a safe and prudent way,” he said.
With summer quickly turning into fall, and winter not too far away, Fauci said the best way to prepare for leaf peepers and winter athletes is to continue following the public health guidelines that have proven to be successful in combating the virus: wearing a mask, keeping a 6-foot distance from others, avoid crowds, and washing hands frequently.
While more people will be “coming into Vermont from states and regions that have a higher degree of test positivity,” Fauci said, “I don’t think you inevitably are going to have a second wave.”
“It’s going to be challenging as you get into the fall and the winter,” Fauci added, “but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to have a problem — if you do the kind of prudent public health measures that you’ve been doing.”
Fauci suggested that tourism operators insist that customers and visitors follow those measures.
“So obviously you want to be courteous and welcoming, but you also want to have a degree of protocol,” he said. “So I think a good degree of caution, without being overly restrictive, would be the way to go.”
If everyone cooperates, he added, Vermont and the U.S. “can not only get through the fall in the winter, but we can come out on the other end better off than we went in.”
Fauci dodged a couple of more political questions, such as whether Scott’s initial hesitation to move on a mask mandate was instructive to the U.S. more generally, or whether journalist Bob Woodward should have released his interviews with President Donald Trump sooner, showing the president was lying in his public remarks about the risks of the emerging coronavirus.
“It’s best now to look forward about what we know now and what we’ve been through, and how we could best address that,” he said.
However, he did discuss the unique challenge of dealing with a global pandemic during such a divided political climate.
“When you have a situation of a combination of inherent divisiveness in society, a lot of politicization … such as an election year, where it really brings out differences among groups, it makes it much more difficult than in other situations that I have found myself in,” Fauci said.
Fauci has also been a leader in the national and global fight against HIV/AIDS, Ebola and the Zika virus.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine, himself an infectious disease expert, asked the final question to Fauci, asking how Americans can trust a vaccine that is ultimately approved by the federal government.
Fauci talked about the various bureaucratic and scientific approvals that would be necessary before a Covid-19 vaccine is made available. And he said he was confident it will be safe and effective.
“I, for one, would not hesitate to take it,” he said.
Clarification: The description of a question posed to Dr. Anthony Fauci about Gov. Phil Scott hesitating to hand down a mask mandate has been edited for clarity.
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