Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that calls to implement life-saving social distancing measures faced “a lot of pushback” early in the US coronavirus outbreak and that the country is now looking for ways to more effectively respond to the virus should it rebound in the fall.
“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,” Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” when asked if social distancing and stay-at-home measures could have prevented deaths had they been put in place in February, instead of mid-March.
“Obviously, no one is going to deny that. But what goes into those decisions is complicated,” added Fauci, who is a key member of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force. “But you’re right, I mean, obviously, if we had right from the very 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.”
Asked why the President didn’t recommend social distancing guidelines until mid-March – about three weeks after the nation’s top health experts recommended they be put in place – Fauci said, “You know, Jake, as I have said many times, we look at it from a pure health standpoint. We make a recommendation. Often, the recommendation is taken. Sometimes it’s not. But we – it is what it is. We are where we are right now.”
The comments from Fauci come a day after a report from The New York Times detailed the Trump administration’s missteps in the early days of the pandemic and how President Donald Trump ignored his advisers’ warnings of the potentially deadly disease.
An administration official separately confirmed to CNN that the government’s top public health experts agreed in the third week of February on the need to begin moving away from a containment strategy and toward a mitigation strategy that would involve strong social distancing measures. The agreement among the health officials came after they held a tabletop exercise to game out the potential for a full-blown pandemic.
According to the Times report, Dr. Robert Kadlec, the top disaster response official at the Department of Health and Human Services, convened the White House coronavirus task force on February 21. During his meeting, the group conducted a mock-up exercise of the pandemic that predicted 110 million infections, 7.7 million hospitalizations and 586,000 deaths.