Fauci, in a discussion for TIME 100 Talks: Finding Hope Thursday, says the United States must not only increase the number of tests, which happens as commercial test companies increase production and the Food and Drug Administration continues to clear the tests using different types of samples (including those from the nose and saliva, as well as blood). But, he says, we also need to make sure that the tests can run as they should.
“We need to dramatically increase not only the number of tests, but also the ability to perform them, so that you don’t have a situation where you have a test, but that cannot be done because there is no ‘swab, or because there is no extraction medium, or the wrong bottle,’ says Fauci. “I’m not at all confident right now that we have what it takes to do it. We are doing better and I think we will get there, but we are not there yet. “
Fauci has become the scientific soul of the US response to coronaviruses, and his focus on evidence and factual science has often put him at odds with President Donald Trump. Fauci has always provided a sober and objective view of the risks the pandemic poses to the health of the American public, as well as the concerns expressed regarding the country’s response.
Fauci noted that there is still a great deal about the COVID-19 virus that doctors still do not know, but they are slowly building on that knowledge on a daily basis. He mentioned early indications that there appear to be two different strains of dominant virus in the United States, one on the east coast and one on the west coast – and that they may have different virulence. This may explain why East Coast cities like New York were hit hard by COVID-19 and saw more people in need of intensive care and respiratory support. He stressed that the data is early, but that understanding the science behind the virus could help guide doctors on the best way to treat infected people.
While Trump has repeatedly discussed reopening the country’s economy as soon as possible, Fauci warns that “we better be very careful as we move forward.” All regions of the country may not not resume their activities prior to COVID-19 at the same time or in the same way, he said. Careful testing will be needed to identify people who may be infected, trace their contacts, test people with whom an infected person has come into contact and isolate them from the public to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.
“Naturally, people might think that when we get back to normal, it’s a light switch that you turn on or off. It’s not really that at all, “says Fauci. “We have to be in a place where we have the capacity when we start to see cases come back – and I guarantee they will come back as we move away from social distance – that we can then identify, isolate them, contact people they have been in contact with and put the infected people out of circulation. If we are able to do it effectively, then we should have good confidence that we could move forward slowly. It’s a very critical time right now. “
Fauci also spoke of the tension between his scientific approach and Trump’s eagerness to revive the economy, which has recently led Trump to tweet the hashtag #FireFauci. “I meet the president literally every day,” he says. “There was no way he could do it because he had no intention of doing it. As he said publicly when questioned, it’s not even on the table. My work is still, and I have always done and will continue to do, to give advice based on evidence and science. “
This article is part of # TIME100Talks: Find Hope, a special series featuring leaders from different fields sharing their ideas for navigating the pandemic. Want more? Register to access more virtual events, including live conversations with influential journalists.