Dr. Anthony Fauci: NJ can keep reopening due to low COVID-19 infection rate

Fauci warned young adults are 'inadvertently' spreading the virus, and he asked folks to put aside 'divisiveness nonsense' over wearing a mask

Dr. Anthony Fauci targeted destructive politics during a Facebook Live chat Thursday with Gov. Phil Murphy about the fight against COVID-19. Fauci has drawn fire from Republicans and President Donald Trump over timelines for vaccine development and potential cures for COVID-19.

“The only way we’re going to end this is is if everybody pulls together,” said Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Put aside this divisiveness nonsense where it’s if you wear a mask you’re on this side of the political spectrum; if you don’t wear a mask, that is so destructive. We are all in this together and we’re going to end it together. And when we end it, then you can get back to your normal life.”

Fauci credited the governor’s efforts to keep New Jersey’s COVID-19 infection rate low after a disastrous spring surge. He applauded the slow reopening of restaurants and schools, noting that some other states are still struggling with COVID-19 spikes. He warned that young people are increasingly propagating the virus, an ongoing problem in New Jersey.

“As you have a house party with a lot of drinking and no mask indoors, what’s going to happen? You’re going to infect someone else, who infects someone else who then will infect someone’s grandparent,” Fauci said.

But Fauci said overall, Jersey’s in a good place.

“The good news and the thing that makes me very pleased and encouraged about New Jersey is that, notwithstanding that you got hit pretty badly, right now if you continue to carefully and prudently open the economy, you can get through the fall and the winter,” Fauci said.

Developing a vaccine is a slow process

But Fauci admitted getting back to normal could take a long time. He expects six drug companies, including New Jersey’s Johnson & Johnson, will conduct Phase Three COVID-19 vaccine trials through the fall that could ultimately involve 30,000 to 60,000 people. Fauci knows Americans suspect political interference might co-opt vaccine safety.

“People are always saying, ‘How do I know it’s safe?’ and ‘How do I know it’s effective?’ There’s a lot of confusion because there are mixed messages that are coming, as you know. You got to admit that,” Fauci said. “So we’ve got to build the trust and outreach to the community that what we’re doing is completely transparent.”

Fauci said, best-case scenario, with all Food and Drug Administration safety guidelines met, a vaccine could be approved by the end of this year with 700 million doses available by April. But it will take months to inoculate everyone, starting with medical staff and first responders. The governor expressed concern.

“This sort of myth, that I sense out there, that this is a bright line, so I got vaccinated. I can now go back into a bar without a face covering, no social distancing,” Murphy said.

“That is assuming that the vaccine is 100% protective and 100% of the people take the vaccine. That’s not going to happen. I think if we’re lucky, we’ll get a vaccine that’s 70% to 75% effective. And we already know that a certain percentage of the population, we still need to convince to get vaccinated,” Fauci responded. “It is not going to eliminate the need to be prudent and careful with our public health measures.”

Fauci estimated perhaps 75% to 80% of Americans could be vaccinated by next year. He urged caution, saying the virus can spread like a cloud through the air, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention yanked an advisory on that from its website earlier this week, and fall and winter will bring both flu and more COVID-19 cases to New Jersey.