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Dr. Fauci on COVID surge, Trump's recovery, and a "very different" Thanksgiving

Fauci on COVID surge, Trump's recovery
Dr. Fauci on COVID surge, Trump's recovery, holiday travel and more - Full interview 31:00

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, told "CBS Evening News" anchor and managing editor Norah O'Donnell that the United States needs to redouble its efforts to contain the coronavirus as we enter the fall and winter months.

"What we really have to do is double down" on preventive measures like social distancing and wearing masks, Fauci said in the interview Wednesday. He noted that coronavirus cases are surging in 37 states, a concerning rise affecting over three-quarters of the country.

"That is not a good sign as you're entering into the cooler weather," Fauci warned. He stressed that the same protocols health officials have been advising for months — wash your hands frequently, social distance, wear a mask, and avoid crowds, especially indoors — are as essential as ever, seven months into the pandemic.

"They sound very simple, but people are not doing that and that's why we have an uptick in cases," he said. 

The surge could be made worse as families across the country travel and gather for the holiday season. Fauci said some beloved traditions, like big Thanksgiving gatherings, may need to be avoided this year to keep people safe.

"That is unfortunately a risk, when you have people coming from out of town, gathering together in an indoor setting," he said. "It is unfortunate, because that's such a sacred part of American tradition — the family gathering around Thanksgiving. But that is a risk." 

Asked what his advice would be to Americans making plans for the November holiday, Fauci said they should evaluate the status of cases across the country.

"Given the fluid and dynamic nature of what's going on right now in the spread and the uptick of infections, I think people should be very careful and prudent about social gatherings, particularly when members of the family might be at a risk because of their age or their underlying condition," he said, adding, "You may have to bite the bullet and sacrifice that social gathering, unless you're pretty certain that the people that you're dealing with are not infected."

He said that his own family's Thanksgiving "is going to look very different this year." He shared that his children, who live in three different states, have decided not to return home in order to protect his health, since at 79 years old he is considered at higher risk.

"They themselves, because of their concern for me and my age, have decided they're not going to come home for Thanksgiving — even though all three of them want very much to come home for Thanksgiving."

Fauci said he thinks we'll know by November or December if there's a safe and effective vaccine candidate. Asked when a vaccine would be available for most Americans, he estimated it would "likely be within the first quarter of 2021, by let's say April of 2021" — if all the vaccines that are currently in clinical trials work out.

"Very pleased" with President Trump's recovery

Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also spoke about President Trump's recent COVID-19 diagnosis and recovery.

"We're very, very pleased" with how well Mr. Trump is doing, he said. But he warned that not everyone who contracts the virus will be so fortunate. 

After testing positive for the coronavirus earlier this month, the president received a variety of aggressive and experimental treatments at Walter Reed Medical Center and declared himself "cured." Fauci reiterated Wednesday that there is no cure for COVID-19. As for Mr. Trump's promise that the Regeneron antibody cocktail will be made available to everyone in the country who needs it, Fauci said that's not currently feasible because there aren't enough doses to go around.

Upon returning to the White House, Mr. Trump urged supporters not to be afraid of the virus or let it "dominate" their lives — an approach Fauci does not embrace.

"That's sort of like saying someone was speeding in a car at 95 miles an hour and didn't get in an accident, so I can go ahead and speed and not get in an accident. There's a great deal of variability," Fauci said. "We're very, very pleased that the president did so well when he was infected with the coronavirus, but there are also a lot of people who are his age and his weight which did not do as well as the president did. The president was fortunate."

Fauci said he spoke to Mr. Trump last week, but would not comment on what they discussed. He said he has not spoken to the president's Democratic rival, Joe Biden. 

The White House said Monday that President Trump has repeatedly tested negative, and he's resumed a busy travel schedule with campaign rallies in Florida, Iowa and Pennsylvania. His swift return to the campaign trail concerned some experts, who warned that he could be endangering those around him and his own recovery. Fauci said Wednesday that he signed off on the president's participation in an NBC town hall Thursday night after looking at the "totality" of the COVID-related tests the president has taken. 

"I, and one of my colleagues who's very experienced in this, Dr. Cliff Lane, came to the conclusion — I think certainly correctly — that he is of no threat to transmit the virus to anybody else," Fauci said. Asked whether the president is putting the people who travel with him in danger at this point, Fauci said: "The answer to that is no, he is not."

Asked about the potential risk of reinfection, Fauci said, "Absolutely, for certain, it occurs," but he noted that so far only anecdotal evidence exists and experts do not know how common it really is.

Some 10,000 people are expected to attend a Trump campaign rally at an airport hangar in Des Moines, Iowa, Wednesday night. "Do you consider that type of event dangerous?" O'Donnell asked.

Fauci said his general advice should answer that question: "When people are close to each other, and you don't have virtually everyone wearing a mask, that is a risky situation that could very well lead to the kind of spreader events that we have seen in similar settings."

He has previously identified the White House ceremony for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett as a "super-spreader" event. At least 24 people in Trump's orbit, many of whom attended the ceremony, have tested positive for COVID-19. Fauci said Wednesday, "I think the data have proven me to be correct."

He also said in the interview that voting in person on Election Day should be reasonably safe if social-distancing precautions are followed, though those at higher risk should consider voting by mail.

Portions of Norah O'Donnell's interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci will air on the "CBS Evening News" on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS and 10 p.m. ET on CBSN.

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