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Fauci says U.S. is still 'knee-deep in the first wave' of coronavirus, is optimistic about vaccine by 2021

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the Institutes for Allergies and Infectious Disease, shared updates on the coronavirus during a talk with Dr. Francis Collin, director of the National Institutes of Health, on Monday, one day after CBS News host Margaret Brennan accused President Trump of preventing him from appearing on TV. (The Trump administration did not respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment on these claims).

Fauci, who recently testified in front of a Senate committee about the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic, elaborated on key aspects of the current crisis, including the timeline of a vaccine, the progress on treatment and a potential way for schools to return in the fall. With over 2.9 million confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S., information on how cases are progressing and what can be done to stop them is vital. To help summarize, here are some of Fauci’s main points.

Dr. Anthony Fauci shared updates on the coronavirus with Americans Monday. Here, he's pictured testifying before a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on the Trump administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic (Photo: Getty Images)
Dr. Anthony Fauci shared updates on the coronavirus Monday, more than a week after testifying in front of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on the Trump administration's response to the pandemic. (Getty Images)

We are “knee-deep in the first wave.”

With recent spikes of coronavirus cases in many Southern states, some have suggested that the country is in the midst of a second wave. Fauci disputed this at the outset of the call, saying that the more than 50,000 new cases appearing each day represent a “record-breaking number of cases” — but not a second wave. “We are still knee-deep in the first wave of this, and I would say this would not be considered a wave, it was a surge or resurgence of infections superimposed upon a baseline that really never got down to where we wanted to go,” said Fauci. “We went up, never came down to baseline and now we’re surging back up, so it’s a serious situation that we have to address.”

The virus is affecting a much younger age group.

Fauci echoed what experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention touched on in late June regarding young people and the belief that they are somehow immune. “The average age of people getting infected now is a decade and a half younger than what it was a few months ago,” Fauci said. “Young people should not feel that they are invulnerable to serious consequences. The more we learn about this disease, the more we realize that many young people may not necessarily get sick enough to go to the hospital but they can get very sick, put them out of action for weeks at a time.” The NIAID director added that young people should be aware that even if they don’t have symptoms, they can be spreading the virus, and therefore it’s their “responsibility” — which they owe to themselves and society — to “avoid infection.”

The final phase of vaccine trials will likely begin at the end of July.

Operation Warp Speed — the name for a joint effort between the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration to find a COVID-19 vaccine — has produced at least three vaccine candidates thus far, including one from Johnson & Johnson and another from Moderna. Fauci confirmed that progress is being made. “If things go the way it looks like they’re going, one of these candidates will enter a phase III trial for efficacy at the end of July,” he said. “Other candidates will sequentially come in, another one at the end of August, one in September and one in October.” Fauci said that some of these vaccines are already produced, so they will be ready if approved.

The first trial will include 30,000 people, and a “major goal” is to make sure it is representative of those most affected.

The phase III vaccine trials — the largest and most rigorous of the phases — will encompass 30,000 volunteers, half of whom get the vaccine and the other half who don’t. Fauci said they will take place in areas hit hard by the virus and will make those most affected by the virus a priority. “We’re going to have the flexibility to go where the outbreak is [percolating] so that you could wind up, hopefully, getting an efficacy signal within a reasonable period of time,” said Fauci. He added that older people, as well as Black and Latinx people — who are three times more likely to get infected by the virus than their white neighbors — will be a key component. “It’s a major goal of the trial to be properly represented,” said Fauci.

Remdesivir seems to be effective in treating late-stage COVID-19, but experts are still working to find a drug that attacks the virus early on.

Fauci confirmed that remdesivir, an antiviral used to treat the Ebola virus, continues to show positive results in treating “advanced stage” COVID-19. “Remdesivir, in an NIH-sponsored trial [with] over a 1,000 individuals, was shown to diminish the time to recovery in individuals in the hospital with pulmonary disease,” said Fauci. But in terms of a therapeutic for those with mild symptoms, he said it’s still in the works. “What we do need — and that we’re in the process of very actively testing — we want therapies and prophylaxis for people early in the course of the disease,” said Fauci. "We need to get a lot of work done ... to prevent people from being hospitalized."

Those already infected seem unlikely to get a relapse of the virus.

One of the main concerns amid the pandemic is whether those who have developed antibodies from fighting off the virus are in danger of getting it again. Fauci feels strongly that they are not. “There are no documented cases where people got better and actually got sick again in the sense of virus replicating,” said Fauci, noting that those who have tested positive for the virus months later are typically only carrying noninfectious viral fragments. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a rare case of an individual who went into remission and relapsed,” said Fauci. “But I can say with confidence that it’s very unlikely if it’s a common phenomenon.”

Schools could reopen in the fall, but precautions need to be taken.

As many as 50 million kids in the U.S. have been out of school since the coronavirus pandemic began, but in an unusual bit of hopeful news, Fauci said this doesn’t necessarily need to continue in the fall. For areas where the coronavirus is virtually nonexistent, he said that schools may not need to make any changes. But for places where the virus is spreading, he floated some possible ways to do it safely.

“The fundamental principle is that you want to do whatever you can to safely get the kids back to school. If you need to make modifications, there are some creative things that school principals, school superintendents are doing: modifying the schedules, separation of desks, wearing masks under certain circumstances, protecting the vulnerables by allowing them to do online classes — there’s a variety of ways to do that,” he said. “But the bottom line is that it depends on the activity of virus in the location that you’re talking about.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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