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Dr. Anthony Fauci Tells Californians To Avoid Congregating, To Wear A Mask

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Kevin Dietsch / Pool via AP
Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies before a House Committee on Energy and Commerce on the Trump administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a lead member of the White House coronavirus task force, spoke to the Sacramento Press Club.

As California continues to see increases in the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the state, the discussion over how to slow the spread of the virus continues as well.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has led much of the national conversation around the nation's response to the coronavirus. Wednesday, he joined CapRadio health care reporter Sammy Caiola and the Sacramento Press Club for a live conversation about the trends in California’s and what people need to continue doing to protect themselves and others.

Interview: Dr. Anthony Fauci On California's Response To Coronavirus

Interview Highlights
On California’s approach to COVID-19 compared to other states

The governor has really been ahead of the curve in doing what he did to save California from having worse of a situation than they have compared to other large states and important states in the country. One of the things that I think is really important is that as you start to open up and follow the guidelines for opening America again, you have to start off by passing a gateway checkpoint, and if you succeed, you go to phase one. If you succeed, you go to phase two and then ultimately phase three. Each of those have some restrictions.

On his concerns as states start opening back up

I think that from the leadership that I'm seeing, it's being done correctly … What we're seeing in some states that are having difficulty is that a leader says, OK, here's what we're gonna do, we're gonna follow these guidelines. And particularly young people. Because if you look at the people right now who are getting infected, if you look at the curve of the country, you have cities and metropolitan areas like New York going way down and then you have others where the cases are coming up. And that's the reason why the curve of the country is flat, if not going up a bit, when it should be really going down.

As locations, be they whole states or cities or counties, open up, we're seeing a disconnect between what are the restrictions, guidelines for slowly taking the next step being jumped over by many people, usually young people, who think that now that we’re opening, opening means all or none, black or white, either no restrictions or lockdown. There's a big difference between the two. And what we're seeing [is] people congregating without masks, even in a state or a city that is in a phase when they still should be doing some social distancing, they still should be wearing masks and they're not. So I don't think it's anything that the state of California is doing wrong or not. It's what the response of the people are to what the opening process is.

On whether California should eventually consider re-closing certain sectors

I've dealt with Gov. Gavin Newsom a fair amount, be that on governors calls or in person. He's got a really good sense of what to do, so I'm not going to recommend it, except that in many respects, I agree with him. You don't really need to go back to lockdown. You need to pause and say, wait a minute, we're starting to open and things aren't going right. What do we need to do to correct that?

Now, you may need to stay where you are and impose a few more restrictions or maybe back up a little. But again, just like you don't want to open in an all or none, you don't want to start locking down completely. Ultimately, that's always a possibility, but I wouldn't be saying that right now.

On people’s individual responsibility to slow the spread of COVID-19

It's totally understandable, the urge to get back as quickly as you can to what you perceive as normal in your life. But you've got to realize that you're part of a dynamic pandemic process. So you’re getting infected, even though you don't realize it, is propagating the continuance of the outbreak. Because when you get infected, even if you're without symptoms or even if you have mild symptoms, the chances are strong that you're going to infect somebody else, who'll infect somebody else, who then will infect the vulnerable person: A grandmother, a grandfather, an uncle or a cousin who has leukemia and is on chemotherapy. That's how your responsibility is not just individual. There really is a societal responsibility there.

On the necessity of wearing face coverings

I think there was some confusion about masks in the beginning, and it's unfortunate, [we] gave a mixed message. It was at a time when personal protective equipment, including masks, were in short supply. And it was clear that the people who really needed them were the health care workers who bravely put themselves in harm's way at a risk to take care of people with COVID disease.

Now, we have plenty of masks and we know that cloth coverings can work as well as some masks. So everybody should wear a mask when out in public. Keep six feet distance. Don't congregate. If for one reason or other you are going to congregate — namely, you're not listening to me — Plan A is don't congregate. Plan B is that if you do congregate, wear a mask and keep the mask on all the time. Because your tendency is when you get animated and you start doing that, you pull the mask down. Don't do that. It really does not only protect you, but protects others in case you might have an infection that you don't even know about.

On encouraging people to continue to avoid gathering

I'm the Grinch that stole fun, the anti-fun guy. I think it gets back to the original message that we are saying. It's so understandable, the urge and the need to get back to normal. Unfortunately, we have to put that aside a bit and realize that if the particular guideline that you are in right now says avoid congregation, keep six [feet apart]. You've got to try to the best of your ability to have your social interactions in a modified way. It gets back to [what] I said in the beginning of the interview: It's not all or none. It's not lockdown or caution to the wind. There is an intermediate in there and that's what we've got to do.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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