5 things to know about the coronavirus fight from Dr. Anthony Fauci

Dr. Fauci gives update on coronavirus pandemic

Last Updated Apr 1, 2020 7:33 PM EDT

After Vice President Mike Pence suggested that Americans might not be back to work until June, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci told the "CBS Evening News" "the virus determines what the timetable is, not us." CBS News spoke to Fauci about how the country is faring in the fight against COVID-19, including the harrowing model suggesting the U.S. could see hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Here are our top takeaways from that interview:

1. The 100,000 to 240,000 death toll estimate is not inevitable

At Tuesday's White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx presented modeling that suggested with total mitigation, there would be between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths from COVID-19. But Dr. Fauci told us, "we don't necessarily have to accept that as inevitable."

"The one thing I want people to understand is that as you collect real data, you can modify the model," he told us. "… and I think the more we push to really very, very strictly adhere to the guidelines of physical separation, I believe we can modify that [modeling]."

2. The nation could be doing "much better" at social distancing

In order to modify the modeling, Dr. Fauci said the United States needs to follow the guidelines put forth by the task force but stopped short of calling for a nationwide lockdown. "I believe that if we get the American public to strictly adhere to the kinds of physical separation mandates that are in those guidelines, we can actually affect what I would call a functional lockdown," he said. "I think we can do much, much better than we're doing right now."

3. Fauci compares effort against the coronavirus to war

Comparing the fight against COVID-19 to war, Dr. Fauci said that the administration is making some things up as it goes along. He told us, "if you talk to the generals with experience, you have a plan. But when the bullets start flying, everything becomes a fog and you've got to play it by ear. We do have a good plan. We need to be humble, that we don't know all the answers, and we don't know exactly how this is going to turn out."

4. Italy is the most comparable outbreak to the U.S. so far

Dr. Fauci agreed with the Vice President's assessment that the most comparable outbreak to the U.S. curve so far is Italy. "If you look at the pattern of infections and hospitalizations. In fact, [Italy] is looking like it's paralleling what we're doing right now," Fauci said. The country of 60 million people has seen 110,000 infections and more than 13,000 deaths.

5. The threat of resurgence "is always there"

While the task force has issued new 30-day guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19, Vice President Mike Pence suggested Wednesday that it could be early June before Americans head back to work. In Virginia, the stay-at-home order put in place by Governor Ralph Northam is in effect until June 10. "The virus determines what the timetable is, not us," Dr. Fauci said. "… We've extended it to 30 days to the end of April. We should start to see a downturn in things, and when you see a downturn in things then you make a decision as to how much you want to pull back."

"But let me throw out this big caveat that if you are going to pull back, we better make sure that we have all the pieces in place, that would prevent a resurgence of infections as we pull back. I believe we're going to see the turnaround. But please, we should not feel that we don't have a threat of resurgence because that threat is always there," Fauci told us.