Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, on Tuesday classified Covid-19 as his “nightmare” outbreak scenario, warning that despite the lack of intense daily focus on the coronavirus pandemic, the devastating outbreak is “not over yet.”
“In a period of four months, it has devastated the world,” he said of the virus during a virtual discussion hosted by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.
Fauci explained that he’d long feared the emergence of a brand new, respiratory-borne viral illness with both a significant degree of transmissibility and mortality.
“We’ve had outbreaks that have had one or two or three of those three or four characteristics but never all four,” he said. Coronavirus, he noted, checked all of those boxes, and had “indeed turned out to be my worst nightmare.”
Throughout the nearly half-hourlong conversation, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases expressed his shock at “how rapidly” coronavirus “just took over the planet,” attesting to how “extraordinarily efficient” the pathogen is infecting people around the world. Fauci noted that while it took previous viral outbreaks like Ebola and SARS anywhere from six months to a year to travel around the world, “this took a month.”
And, he argued, “those other outbreaks had a degree of containment and finiteness to them from the very beginning.” Fauci described Ebola as more of a “highly lethal local disease,” whereas HIV was “drawn out over an extended period of time” and was associated with a “certain type of an exposure or risk.” As a result, he said, “the entire world never felt threatened by any given disease” as it has with coronavirus.
“And it isn’t over yet,” he added.
Fauci's warning comes as much of the United States has begun to reopen after lockdowns that lasted for months, in some cases. In New York City, the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., Phase One of reopening kicked off Monday, while other areas around the country continue to see case numbers rise.
The pandemic has largely disappeared from the round-the-clock news coverage in the outbreak’s earliest days, put on the back burner by other domestic issues such as police brutality. Fauci, once a daily presence on the airwaves who became a beloved public figure and the face of the White House’s coronavirus response, shows up rarely — if ever — on TV these days, along with fellow members of the White House coronavirus task force.
On Tuesday, Fauci continued to stress how much scientists still didn’t know about the novel coronavirus, which emerged late last year in China and has infected nearly 2 million Americans and killed 111,000.
“I thought that HIV was a complicated disease,” he said of the virus that he’s studied as part of his life’s work. But “it’s really simple compared to what’s going on with Covid-19.”
Fauci’s message appeared to be bolstered on Tuesday when the World Health Organization had to scramble to clarify a claim from the day before that asymptomatic spread of the virus was “very rare.”
Fauci pointed to the vast range of symptoms that Covid-19 patients have exhibited, with anywhere from a quarter to 40 percent potentially presenting with no symptoms at all — while others have mild symptoms, others are “completely knocked off your feet” for weeks, others need to be intubated, still others suffer strokes, and some children suffer from a serious inflammatory disease.
“When is it gonna end?” Fauci exclaimed, adding that “we’re at almost the beginning of understanding” the long-term negative effects of the disease on survivors.