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Fauci: Precarious risk followed by hope

by Mark Craddock
OUR WORLD — It was a rather surprising press conference even by COVID-19 pandemic standards.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, in isolation after receiving a positive COVID-19 test Saturday, jacked in from somewhere in the governor’s residence.

He was joined by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health, the face of scientific reason during the pandemic, phoning it in from Washington D.C.

Their message was one of dark predictions tempered with a ray of hope: The pandemic will get worse — possibly much worse — but a rollout of vaccines is on the horizon.

Fauci said all indications are that during the year-end holiday season, the nation is going to see a “surge on a surge,” the result of Thanksgiving holiday travel and gatherings.

“You usually see (a surge in cases) about two and a half to three weeks following an event, whatever that event is that precipitates new infections,” Fauci said. “Traveling is an event. Holiday gathering is an event. Indoor types of congregate settings is an event. So what we have seen already is the event has occurred and we’re going to be seeing the result of that in the next couple of weeks.”

He said the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays should be seen not as two separate events but one long timeline of danger. People exposed to COVID-19 during Thanksgiving will start becoming symptomatic just in time for Christmas.

“I think we’re going to be looking at 30 or more days of precarious risk,” he said.

“We are rapidly going to emerge into the season of people shopping, crowding, preparing, perhaps even the ill-advised office parties if they can exist anymore. And then the Christmas holidays. And then, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. So we have about a month or more of a situation where it is in our hands right now, to see if we can mitigate it. And you mitigate it by the things that Governor Polis has been telling us to do and that I have been reiterating over and over — uniform wearing of masks, physical distancing, avoiding crowds in congregate settings, particularly indoors…

“Avoid the things that we know are pleasant and desirable, though they are dangerous now, like family and friends getting together.”

Polis touted the state’s efforts on the economic front. He said citizens who have been on unemployment should see a one-time $375 bump in aid as soon as this week. And the state legislature is currently in special session to try and hammer out legislation that would provide assistance to Colorado businesses, especially restaurants and bars, in the wake of stalled federal efforts to pass another stimulus bill.
He equated the pandemic to a marathon and said the state is at “mile 22 or 23.”

“I don’t run marathons, but moving to Boulder I have many friends who do and they say, yes, the last few miles are the hardest, because you’re about to drop dead and you’re exhausted,” Polis said. “This is a different kind of tired. We’re tired of not seeing our friends and loved ones. We’re tired of not having the quality of life. But we’re almost there. We’re almost there.”

Fauci excitedly predicted that vaccines that are more than 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 will become available for modest roll-out by the end of the year, with widespread distribution coming as soon as the spring of 2021.

He said an independent advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, met Tuesday to begin the process of deciding the priority of vaccinations.

ACIP members voted Tuesday to prioritize healthcare workers and long-term care residents as the first to receive vaccination, followed by essential workers, then adults with high-risk medical conditions and those over age 65. Other populations at lower risk of serious illness would come later in 2021.

The vaccinations could begin within the next two to three weeks, when Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine is expected to get an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, Fauci said. A second vaccine developed by Moderna is about a week behind.

In a stark reminder of what’s at stake, at the beginning of the meeting, ACIP member Dr. Beth Bell noted that COVID-19 is killing Americans at a rate of one per minute and 180 likely would die during the three hours the meeting was scheduled.

At Monday’s press conference, Fauci said that part of his mission is to reassure citizens that the vaccines are safe and effective, indeed a triumph in modern science, and to strongly encourage people to get vaccinated.

“The rapidity with which we now have safe and very efficacious plural vaccines is a testimony to the extrrordinary and exquisite scientific advances that have taken place over many years.

“To get a vaccine that’s 94 to 95 percent effective from the time the virus was recognized in January of 2020 to the time we’re putting it in someone’s arm in December of 2020 is extraordinary, unprecedented and quite frankly unexpected.”

Fauci urged “when the vaccine becomes available to the people of Colorado, please get vaccinated for your own safety and for the safety of your loved ones and for the people of Colorado in general.”

Meantime, Fauci and Polis doubled down on the short-term strategy — stay safe. Wear a mask. Exercise caution. Don’t spread the virus.

“One can make an argument. I’m young, I’m healthy if I get infected the likelihood is that I’m not going to get a serious outcome,” Fauci said. “It doesn’t matter. You can’t think about yourself as being in a vacuum. Because by getting infected, you are propagating the outbreak. And by propagating the outbreak, you’re allowing it to continue because you’re being a vehicle for the virus to hop around from person to person. What you really want is that when the virus gets to you, you want to be a dead end for the virus.”