With the White House’s social distancing guidelines expiring Thursday, leaving states largely in charge of deciding how to move forward, Anthony Fauci warned local leaders to avoid “leapfrogging” critical milestones in an effort to reopen their economies amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“Obviously you could get away with that, but you’re making a really significant risk,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Thursday evening on CNN.
Fauci, who has repeatedly cautioned against prematurely easing restrictions, said he already noticed that some states and cities are not adhering to the steps laid out in the White House’s recently issued guidance on reopening – a plan that administration officials say will now replace the expired federal social distancing measures.
“If you follow the guidelines, there’s a continuity that’s safe, that’s prudent and that’s careful,” he said.
But if governors rush to reopen when they aren’t ready, Fauci cautioned that the move would likely only set back the progress their states have made.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that when you pull back mitigation, you’re going to start seeing cases crop up here and there,” he said. “If you’re not able to handle them, you’re going to see another peak, a spike, and then you almost have to turn the clock back to go back to mitigation.”
Fauci’s comments come as dozens of states have unveiled plans to begin easing stay-at-home orders, with some changes already taking effect despite the number of coronavirus cases and related deaths continuing to rise nationwide. Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, for example, weathered intense criticism, including from President Donald Trump, after announcing that he would lift restrictions on a wide range of businesses ranging from tattoo parlors to bowling alleys, allowing them to open their doors a week ago.
The patchwork effort to return to some semblance of normalcy coupled with the absence of stringent social distancing recommendations has left health experts worried, The Washington Post’s Yasmeen Abutaleb and Rachel Weiner reported. Attempts to reopen states too soon at a time when social distancing remains the most effective way to stem the spread of the virus could increase the risk of new outbreaks, experts say. According to most recent figures, the United States has more than 1 million cases of covid-19 and nearly 63,000 deaths.
On Thursday, Fauci appeared to echo those concerns, but stressed that major problems could be avoided so long as states adhere to the federal government’s reopening guidelines, which he described as “very well thought out and very well delineated.”
“I keep trying to articulate to the public and to the leaders, ‘Take a look at the guidelines,’ ” Fauci said on CNN. “They don’t tell you because you’ve reached the end of the 30-day mitigation period that, all of a sudden, you switch a light on and you just go for it. That’s not the way to do it. Each state, each city, each region is going to be a little different.”
Citing the guidelines, Fauci reiterated that states need to report a steady decrease in coronavirus cases within a 14-day period in addition to meeting other requirements before even thinking about moving on to the first phase of reopening.
“The discretion is given to the governors, they know their states. The mayors know their cities, so you want to give them a little wiggle room,” he said. “But my recommendation is don’t wiggle too much.”
While Fauci acknowledged that some local leaders are following the guidance, he said “others are taking a bit of a chance.”
“I hope they can actually handle any rebound that they see,” he added.
Later in the segment, Fauci was asked by CNN’s chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta about whether the rise in cases in states that are reopening would be incremental or exponential. In response, Fauci said that though he doesn’t know for sure, he doubted that any area would see “something as explosive as we saw in New York.” New York, which has yet to lift restrictions, is the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak with more than 300,000 confirmed cases and roughly 23,600 deaths.
But he warned that states could really find themselves in trouble if infections managed to “spill over into the general community,” similar to the way the virus spread in New York.
“If you can’t stop that from happening, then I think you’re really going to see the sharp peak,” Fauci said. “That is going to be very disturbing when that happens because it’s really going to take awhile to get it back down.”