Dr Anthony Fauci set himself at odds with Donald Trump yet again by sharing his disapproval of the president’s crowded campaign rallies where hundreds of supporters gather without masks or social distancing.
Fauci, the nation’s leading infection disease expert and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, addressed the issue in an interview with CBS This Morning on Wednesday, hours after a massive MAGA rally in North Carolina.
Asked if he was frustrated by scenes showing supporters – and Trump himself – not wearing masks, Fauci said: ‘Well, yes, it is. I’ve said that often.
‘We want to set an example because we know that when you do four or five typical kind of public health measures – masks, physical distance, avoiding crowds – those are the kind of things that turn around surges and also prevent us from getting surges.
‘So I certainly would like to see a universal wearing of masks.’
Trump’s rally on Tuesday night in Winston-Salem flew in the face of state guidelines banning gatherings with more than 50 people.
Ahead of the event, the chair of the local county commission urged Trump to wear a face mask in compliance with the governor’s mandate.
‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in North Carolina, do as the governor says,’ Dave Pyler, the Republican chairman of the Forsyth county board of commissioners, told the Winston-Salem Journal.
Pyler said Trump ‘is a citizen of the United States, but he is also a guest in our county.’
‘Without a mask, he could get sick, and he could blame the governor,’ he added.
But Trump ignored Pyler’s plea and the governor’s order by choosing not to don a mask as he spoke to the crowds and mocked his Democratic rival Joe Biden’s adherence to social distancing guidelines at his own events.
Fauci offered his own assessment of Trump’s gathering after discussing how America’s race for a vaccine has been politicized ahead of the November election.
He said its unlikely the US will have a vaccine prior to the election – despite Trump’s promise that it would be available by then.
When asked about the timeline, Fauci said he couldn’t rule out one being made available earlier but insisted that the end of the year was a more likely scenario.
‘The projection that I’ve made and I’ll stick by it is that we would likely get an answer if this is safe and effective by the end of the year…. The more likely scenario is that we’ll know by the end of this calendar year,’ he said.
‘Hopefully we’ll be able to start vaccinations in earnest as we begin 2021.’
Fauci said initial trial results are likely to become available in November or December but late October remains a possibility.
Three US vaccine candidates are currently in phase three clinical trials but one of those, which is being carried out by AstraZeneca, has now been put on hold after an unexplained illness in a participant.
Fauci said that AstraZeneca’s decision to pause the global trials of its experimental vaccine was unfortunate but not an uncommon safety precaution in the development process.
AstraZeneca, of which the US has ordered 100 million doses, said on Tuesday it voluntarily paused trials, including late-stage ones, after an unexplained illness in a participant, to allow an independent committee to review safety data.
It was working to expedite the review to minimize any potential impact on the trial timeline.
Fauci said the pause was not uncommon in vaccine development and that he hoped the company could proceed with its trial.
‘This particular candidate from the AstraZeneca company had a serious adverse event, which means you put the rest of the enrollment of individual volunteers on hold until you can work out precisely what went on,’ Fauci said.
‘It’s really one of the safety valves that you have on clinical trials such as this, so it’s unfortunate that it happened.
‘Hopefully, they’ll work it out and be able to proceed along with the remainder of the trial but you don’t know. They need to investigate it further.’
The vaccine, which AstraZeneca is developing with the University of Oxford, has been described by the World Health Organization as probably the world’s leading candidate and the most advanced in terms of development.
Trump has repeatedly said a vaccine is possible before the November 3 election.
‘We’re going to have a vaccine very soon. Maybe even before a very special date. You know what date I’m talking about,’ Trump said during a news briefing on Monday.
He has accused a ‘deep state’ within the nation’s top health regulator of trying to slow pivotal clinical trials to hamper his chances at a second term.
The US Food and Drug Administration has refuted that claim, saying its decisions will be guided by data alone.
Drugmakers, seeking to bolster public confidence amid political squabbles on Tuesday pledged to uphold scientific safety and efficacy standards in their quest for a vaccine.
However, comments from companies suggest they could have an answer on whether their vaccines work within that time frame.
US drug giant Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech have recently suggested their vaccines could be ready for approval by mid-October or early November.
During a Research! America 2020 National Health Research Forum on Tuesday, Fauci said the number of vaccine candidates was promising.
‘You have a lot of candidates in play, which really is the reason why we’re optimistic that we will be successful with one or more, and that will likely start taking place by the end of the calendar year 2020,’ he said.
When asked about the COVID-19 outlook for the United States, Fauci said it was a ‘mixed bag’.
‘If you look at the country… there are some areas doing very well right now, particularly those that got hit badly early on. For example, the New York City metropolitan area has, for at least a month now, been less than 1 percent test positivity,’ Fauci said.
He added that Southern states that saw surges when they started reopening economies had pushed the country’s baseline daily infection rate from about 20,000 to 70,000.
Fauci noted that the infections in those Sunbelt hotspot states was now declining.
‘Just as those states are starting to level off and come down. We’re seeing surges in places like Montana, the Dakotas, Michigan… some areas are doing really well and others are threatening to have surges,’ he said.
‘If you’re looking at the country as a whole, we need to do much better.’
The average number of new coronavirus cases per day across the US are the lowest they have been in more than two months – as health officials warn that large crowds over the Labor Day holiday weekend could potentially spark a surge in COVID-19 cases in the coming days.
Daily cases across the country are averaging at just over 40,000 per day – a toll not seen since the last week of June.
Cases are currently declining nationally after plateauing for the last week two weeks following the initial steep decline in July.
The US now has more than 6.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases.
Deaths from the virus have more than doubled over the summer to nearly 190,000.
The average number of daily deaths is now at just over 800, which is down from the peak 2,000 fatalities per day back in April.
While cases and deaths have been declining nationally for several weeks, health officials said they feared the Labor Day holiday weekend could cause a spike like the one that followed Memorial Day.
The US had about 1.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases around Memorial Day before backyard parties and other gatherings contributed to a summertime surge.
The current average number of daily cases is double the number ahead of the Memorial Day weekend back in May.
Many health experts partly blame the July spike on social gatherings held around Memorial Day.