The Slatest

Fauci: “Obviously” Lives Would Have Been Saved With Earlier Social Distancing

Fauci sits in a chair and watches as Trump stands at the podium, pointing toward the audience
Anthony Fauci at the White House coronavirus briefing on Friday. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Slate is making its coronavirus coverage free for all readers. Subscribe to support our journalism. Start your free trial.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, characterized it as a no-brainer to assume that if measures would have been taken earlier to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, lives could have been saved. “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 said on CNN’s State of the Union. “Obviously, no one is going to deny that. But what goes into those kinds of decisions is complicated.”

Advertisement

Fauci made the statement when he was asked about a bombshell New York Times report that revealed how Fauci and other top officials had been recommending that social distancing guidelines be implemented back in February, but it took Trump’s administration until mid-March to actually announce them. “We look at it from a pure health standpoint,” Fauci said. “We make a recommendation. Often, the recommendation is taken. Sometimes, it’s not. But … it is what it is. We are where we are right now.”

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

The nation’s top infectious diseases expert made clear he wasn’t very comfortable going down the what-if route. But he said that “obviously” if things were shut down “right from the very beginning, it may have been a little bit different.” But saying that now is easy. “There was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then,” he said.

Asked to weigh in on when Americans can expect things to start getting back to normal, Fauci made clear that even if some parts of the country could see restrictions start to roll back as early as next month, it’s still too early to say. “It is not going to be a light switch that we say, OK, it is now June, July, or whatever—click, the light switch goes back on,” Fauci said. “It’s going to be depending where you are in the country, the nature of the outbreak that you have already experienced, and the threat of an outbreak that you may not have experienced.” The process of getting things back to normal “could probably start at least in some ways maybe next month,” Fauci said while cautioning that it was “difficult” to make a prediction.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Scott Gottlieb, Trump’s former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said on CBS’ Face the Nation that there was “a lot of pressure” from the business community to reopen the economy. “So I think inevitably we’re going to see a slow reopening of business activities through May with some risk, but there’s always going to be risk,” he said. Gottlieb said that a “gradual reopening” of the economy is likely, “where governors and mayors say, ‘Well, businesses can reopen, but you can only bring back 50 percent of your employees that are on any one shift.’ So you force the employers to break up the shifts. Maybe you tell people over the age of 65 to stay home a little longer,” he said.

Advertisement