Fauci warns U.S. not ready to reopen amid COVID-19

April 15, 2020

In an interview with the Associated Press, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said opening up the nation on May 1 is "a bit overly optimistic."  The U.S. has 609,685 cases and 26,059 deaths of COVID-19 and the global cases have reached just under 2,000,000, according to today’s data from the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard

Dr. Fauci’s comments come a day after President Donald Trump announced a new reopening task force, meant to help guide the country back to economic health after the national COVID-19 April 30 physical distancing campaign ends. In a heated back-and-forth with reporters, Trump said that only the president has the ability to call the shots on when and how to reopen the country. 

But Fauci said, "We have to have something in place that is efficient and that we can rely on, and we're not there yet." 

Fauci warned that reopening too soon will lead to clusters of infections, and he said he would not be surprised if there was a second peak of COVID-19 activity in the fall. 

Meanwhile, governors continued to outline their plans for reopening. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said testing has to be greatly expanded, to as many as 35,000 tests per week, before he would consider resuming normal economic activity. Walz called the expansion of testing his state's moonshot effort, given that the state has tested fewer than 38,000 people thus far. 

Gavin Newsom, the California governor who has joined Washington and Oregon in the Western States Pact to develop a plan to reopen, said today that reopening depends on six factors, including availability of widespread testing, ability to provide contact tracing, and the availability of therapeutics to use against the virus. 

California is the world's fifth largest economy, and on Mar 19 became the first state to issue a stay-at-home order. Newsom said today that California has been successful in flattening the curve, but physical distancing is still needed. 

As of today, 25,356 Californians have contracted COVID-19, including 768 fatally. But the state's peak in deaths so far seems to have been on April 8, when 66 people died in a single day. 

New York remains the hardest-hit state, with 199,756 cases and 9,524 deaths. New Jersey follows, with 68,824 cases and 2,805 deaths. 

Massachusetts has the third most cases, with 28,164, including 844 deaths. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said cases in his city have doubled in the past week, and hospitals are experiencing a surge of admissions. 

To help combat the outbreak, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced he was hiring 1,000 contact tracers to conduct interviews with anyone who has tested positive in the state and identify all contacts who may have spent 15 minutes with that person over the last several weeks. 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said yesterday that the National Guard has been deployed to dozens of nursing homes in which COVID-19 cases have been confirmed to provide testing to residents and staffs. 

National Public Radio reports that four-person teams have been dispatched to 93 long-term care facilities where 962 cases have been identified. At least 3,600 COVID-19 deaths in the United States have been in nursing home residents and staff, and the first deadly outbreak of COVID-19 was at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington. The virus has proved to be more severe and fatal in the elderly. 

Clusters of COVID-19 cases were also recently identified in meat packing plant workers in Colorado and South Dakota. On Easter Sunday the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, announced it would be closed indefinitely after more than 300 workers were sickened with the novel coronavirus. 

The Smithfield plant is one of the biggest pork processing plants in the nation, and the cases among employees represent one third of South Dakota's total. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has resisted calls to lock down the state, and instead yesterday said her state would play host to a new trial of hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug favored by Trump as a promising therapeutic against COVID-19. 

The JBS USA beef plant in Greeley, Colorado, announced it would be closed until April 24. At least 43 of the beef plant employees have COVID-19. 

CIDRAP has the report.  

More COVID-19 coverage HERE.