National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci (R) listens as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus COVID-19 on March 24, 2020 at the White House in Washington, DC .
Almond Ngan | AFP | Getty Images
The current data on the US Covid-19 outbreak is "worrying," said White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, on Friday when he denied President Donald Trump's claims that the US was "around the corner".
Trump said at a press conference at the White House Thursday night, "I really think we're going around the corner," adding that the number of new weekly cases has fallen 44% since July. MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell asked Fauci for the president's comments on Friday.
"I'm sorry, but I don't have to agree because when you look at the thing you just mentioned, the statistics, Andrea, they are worrying," he said. "We're reaching a plateau of around 40,000 cases per day and the number of deaths is around 1,000."
Daily new cases in the US have declined significantly since new national cases peaked in late July, when the country reported nearly 70,000 new cases in a day, according to Johns Hopkins University. Over the past seven days, the country has reported an average of 35,200 new cases per day, according to a CNBC analysis of Hopkins data, a decrease of more than 12% from the previous week. However, recent data reporting was likely influenced by the Labor Day holiday weekend, when some local health departments and clinical laboratories closed.
The number of new infections every day remains well below its peak, but the country is still reporting worrying levels of new infections, Fauci said. And while new cases have decreased significantly, new deaths caused by Covid-19 have decreased slightly. The country reports an average of 850 new deaths each day, according to Hopkins data.
"If you have an infection base of 40,000 per day and are at risk of increased test positivity in certain regions of the country like Dakotas and Montana and places like these, you don't want to start with a baseline that high," he said.
He added that the upcoming fall and winter seasons will add to the concerns, which will likely push people into indoor spaces, where the virus can spread more easily.
Fauci said the US would find itself in a "more precarious position" through the fall and winter, and if the country continued to report current levels of new cases on a daily basis, the US would be "disadvantaged from the start." Over the past few weeks, Fauci and other senior health officials have repeatedly warned that cases must continue to decline as the country approaches the colder weather. Earlier this month, Fauci said the daily incidence was "unacceptably high" just before the fall.
Officials and public health professionals have expressed different concerns about why the autumn and winter months could bring new challenges. First, the colder weather is likely to push more people into risky activities such as indoor dining.
Second, as in most years, seasonal influenza could spread widely among the US population and weigh on health systems and diagnostic laboratories as the country tries to respond to two epidemics at once.
And some scientists believe the virus could be seasonal, much like the flu. While it continued to spread rapidly in the U.S. and elsewhere during the summer, some scientists fear that it might spread even more easily in November or December.
Last week, forecasters from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicted that the total death toll in the US could exceed 410,000 by Jan. 1 if current trends in mask wear and social distancing continue. Dr. Christopher Murray, director of IHME, said one assumption burned into his team's model is that the virus has a seasonal element.
"We are facing a fatal December, especially in Europe, Central Asia and the United States," Murray said last week.
"Fool's Errand" to blow Fauci
In the same interview on Friday, Fauci also responded to a report from Politico that a Trump administration official at the Department of Health and Human Services is trying to prevent Fauci from speaking about some of the risks the coronavirus poses. Politico said they had received emails from Paul Alexander, a senior advisor to Michael Caputo, HHS deputy secretary for public affairs, who was trying to control what Fauci would say during media appearances.
"I don't pay any attention to them. I mean, anyone who tries to tell me publicly what to say when they know something about me realizes it's a fool's game," he said. "Nobody is ever going to pressure me or make me say anything publicly. Whoever that person was who wrote this memo, it was a waste of an email."
Fauci also replied to a question about recorded remarks by the president about the start of the pandemic to reporter Bob Woodward. The president told Woodward in early February that he knew the virus was "blowing through the air". Later, in another taped interview in mid-March, the president told Woodward that he "always wanted to downplay it". The president defended his remarks on Thursday, saying, "I don't want to jump up and down and start screaming," Death! Death! "Because that's not the point. We have to run a country."
Fauci responded to the comments by saying that there had been disagreements throughout the outbreak, which were evident when Fauci and the president presented mixed assessments of the state of the outbreak to the public.
"I have no explanation for the conversations between the author of the book, Bob Woodward, and the president," Fauci said on Friday. "I can't comment on that, except to say yes, if you're downplaying something that is really a threat, that's not a good thing."