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A Conversation With Dr. Anthony Fauci: The Effects of Politicization and Divisiveness During a Public Health Crisis


Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, discussed the coronavirus, the likelihood of vaccines, and the rise of COVID cases via Zoom Webinar on Tuesday, Oct. 6. 

The virtual event was part of American University's Family Week and was hosted by the Kennedy Political Union. The event was moderated by American University President and former Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia M. Burwell. 

When asked about the recent and dramatic surges in cases across the country, Fauci noted, "We know that with uniform, universal use of masks, social distancing, no crowds, and washing of hands, we wouldn't see the surges that we're seeing. It occurs because of the lack of implementation of simple public health measures. It's so frustrating because it's not rocket science." 

Fauci made it clear that the U.S. could still open up the economy, while simultaneously limiting the spread, and, if anything, the refusal to follow health guidelines would hurt the economy more in the long run.

 "When you have community spread to the tune of 40,000 cases a day...forget about it, you're not going to get anything done efficiently," Fauci stated. 

President Burwell brought up the question that has been at the back of students' minds since classes were moved online for the fall semester: When will universities and schools return to normal, in-person classes? 

The return to normalcy would be a "gradual, evolutionary process that starts off in the early spring and goes through next fall," Fauci said. "We will get an answer as to whether or not we have a safe and effective vaccine by November or is unlikely but not impossible that it's by October." 

Even though a vaccine may be available by the end of this year, according to Fauci, the vaccine would take time to be administered: "I'm not so sure we're gonna be there in the spring. I think it's much more likely as we get into the late summer and early fall that we'll have a combination of public health measures plus a really good chunk of the population vaccinated that we can start talking about in-person classes being the rule and not the exception."

During the student Q&A portion of the discussion,  Fauci was asked about what public health officials had learned about dealing with public health crises during the modern age.  He chuckled at this question before answering, "When you have a public health crisis everybody has to be pulling together in the same direction. You cannot have such divisiveness and rancor and politicization of public health information because it gets in the way of getting the job done." 

The final question pertained to the disproportionate effects the virus is having on minority communities in the U.S. Fauci informed attendees that generalization is never something one should do of minority populations, but, "as a demographic group, minorities have a greater chance of getting infected by the nature of the jobs they have. They are more likely to have jobs that are essential positions, out in the community, and interacting with people." 

He then offered a statistic that demonstrated the disparities that have come to light during this crisis. "If you look at the rate of hospitalization for 100,000 population, Hispanic and African American individuals are between 367 and 369, white individuals are at 70. These are results of the social determinants of health." 

Fauci's final words on the issue of public health disparities in minority communities came in the form of a call to action for America's policymakers, public health officials, and every citizen of the United States. "If anything comes out of this outbreak it should be a societal commitment that enough is enough. We have to do things that are commitments for decades to overcome these social determinants of health, otherwise, the next crisis, whatever it's gonna be, it's gonna be the same story."

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