WASHINGTON — The nation is entering “a very vulnerable period” that could see the number of coronavirus deaths rise rapidly, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned in conversation with Yahoo News on Monday.
The warning comes at a time when the virus is already causing widespread devastation, averaging close to 1,500 deaths per day, according to the COVID Tracking Project. About 257,000 people have succumbed in the United States to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Asked if that number could double, Fauci expressed concern about the onset of colder weather and the “sequential holiday seasons” of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve.
“You do the math on that,” Fauci said. “Two to three thousand deaths a day times a couple of months, and you’re approaching a really stunning number of deaths.”
Three thousand deaths per day for the next two months would bring the total number of American deaths to above 400,000, with plenty of devastation still ahead. Although coronavirus vaccinations will begin within a matter of weeks, the inoculations will not stem the viral tide in the near future. That means thousands more could die during the winter months, even as the end of the pandemic starts to come into view.
“It isn’t inevitable that that will happen,” said Fauci, a veteran of the HIV/AIDS epidemic whose previous dire predictions about the path of the coronavirus pandemic have come true. He said that people should not panic but ought instead to take basic precautions, such as seeing people outside the household in outdoor settings only and wearing masks.
“We can blunt the curve and blunt that trajectory, which is almost exponential,” he said. “It’s possible.” Fauci has been making that case more or less since the pandemic began, but he has routinely been undermined by President Trump, who has dismissed the coronavirus as a minor threat inflated by Democratic foes. He has turned face masks into an object of the divisive culture wars on which he thrives.
Fauci excoriated governors who have consistently downplayed the dangers of the coronavirus, even as thousands fall seriously ill and die in their states. The virus has proved a political challenge for elected leaders regardless of party, but Republican governors have, for the most part, been more reluctant than their Democratic counterparts to institute mask mandates or other restrictions that could slow the spread of the virus.
“It’s beyond stunning to me, it’s almost incomprehensible, how in places where you have the intensive care beds completely full,” Fauci said, “and intensive care patients needing to be housed in other places, and you have the possibility of pending shortages of staff — that in those same places they’re still saying it’s fake news, it’s a hoax.”
Speaking to Yahoo News on Monday, Fauci marveled at those who insisted on such an approach. “How could you possibly do that when it’s staring you right in the face in the place where you live?” he wondered. “That people are dying in intensive care units. I don’t get that. At all.”
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