Gov. Andrew Cuomo was joined by infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci on Monday morning to discuss New York’s plans and strategies for containing the spread of COVID-19 this winter.
Both men agree that the middle of January 2021 has the potential to be particularly bad if people ignore warnings about traveling and gatherings this coming holiday season. But they are also optimistic that COVID can be contained by the summer of 2021 if enough Americans are willing to get the vaccine, which is being rolled out for front line workers and vulnerable populations next week.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases and an advisor to six U.S. presidents, joined Cuomo via videoconferencing to receive updates about New York’s current positivity rates and hospital rates; the “surge and flex” system of treating COVID patients using available doctors, nurses, hospital beds and ventilators; and the parameters being used to close down schools and businesses in high-spread regions of the state.
Fauci, a native of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, commended New York for adapting quickly after getting “sucker punched” in March and April, when the coronavirus hit New York City and its suburbs in the early days of the pandemic.
“You guys got really slammed and then you rebounded. And you rebounded in a way that you kept your test positivity low because you did the prudent things that you need to do,” Fauci said. “I was following it from here in Washington and I was seeing that whenever it looked like things were getting a little out of hand, you’d tighten the rope a little bit and then when things went back, you eased up a little bit.
“So I’m not surprised that your infection rate is really low because I think you were doing the right things after you had a really serious hit in the beginning when you were there in the late-winter, early-spring.”
When asked about the coming holiday spread, which Cuomo predicted would continue through Christmas and Hanukkah, Fauci said he expects a large number of cases to surface in mid-January.
“You would expect the full brunt of the travel and the family gatherings … from Thanksgiving to be about a week from now,” Fauci said. “Because it’s usually two and a half weeks from the time of the event [until a person is tested and results are known to officials]. That’s going to come right at the beginning of the Christmas-Hanukkah potential surge, so you will have a surge upon a surge, and then before you can handle that, more people are going to travel over the holidays and you’re going to have more of those family and friend gatherings that are an issue.
“So if those two things happen and we don’t listen to the public health message that we need to follow we can expect to see things get really bad in the middle of January,” Fauci said. “Without substantial mitigation, the middle of January could be a really dark time for us.”
“But there are some things we can do,” Fauci said.
The doctor echoed Cuomo’s advice of limiting small gatherings of friends and family to cut down on “living room spread,” which is responsible for about 70 percent of new cases in New York.
Even 10 people in a home may be too many people, Facui said. But more important than the number of guests, “make sure that for the people coming [to your home], know where they have been and who they’ve been exposed to. You want to be friendly, but you really have to be careful about that,” Fauci said.
Watch the full conversation between Dr. Anthony Fauci and Gov. Andrew Cuomo here:
Cuomo and Fauci also discussed how to achieve the 80 percent vaccination rate needed to substantially slow the spread of COVID-19 — a challenge when about half of Americans say they do not plan to take it.
“When you have 75 to 80 percent of the people vaccinated, you have an umbrella of protection over the community that the level of community spread will be really, really very low,” Fauci said. “The virus will not have any place to go. It’s almost metaphorically, if you think the virus is looking for some victims, when most of the people are protected the virus has a hard time latching on to someone.
“When that happens, governor, is going to be entirely dependent upon how well we do, how well I do, you do, your health officials, in getting the message out of why it’s so important for people to get vaccinated, because if 50 percent of the people get vaccinated, then we don’t have that umbrella of immunity over us.”
Fauci said if all goes as planned — if enough Americans take the vaccine — the U.S could see a return to normal by the end of summer, or the beginning of the third quarter of 2021.
“That’s what I’m hoping for, and that’s the reason why it’s so important to extend ourselves out to the community, particularly to the Black, African-American, Latino, the people who are undocumented, the people who we really need to get vaccinated,” Fauci said.