Transcript: Dr. Anthony Fauci discusses coronavirus on "Face the Nation," March 22, 2020

Fauci says social distancing is crucial to prevent U.S. from "becoming an Italy"
Fauci says social distancing is crucial to pr... 07:43

The following is a transcript of an interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci that aired Sunday, March 22, 2020, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: Doctor Anthony Fauci is the director at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, and that is where he joins us from this morning. Dr. Fauci, thank you for making time for us.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Good to be with you. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You just- you just heard that report from our Liz Palmer about Italy. Are we on the same trajectory as Italy?

DR. FAUCI: No, not necessarily at all. I mean, obviously, things are unpredictable. You can't make any definitive statement. But if you look at the dynamics of the outbreak in Italy, we don't know why they are suffering so terribly. But there is a possibility and many of us believe that early on they did not shut out as well the input of infections that originated in China and came to different parts of the world. One of the things that we did very early and very aggressively, the president, you know, had put the travel restriction coming from- from China to the United States and most recently from Europe to the United States, because Europe is really the new China. Again, I don't know why this is happening there to such an extent, but it is conceivable that once you get so many of these spreads out, they spread exponentially and you can never keep up with this tsunami, and I think that's what unfortunately our colleagues and our dear friends in Italy are facing. They are very competent. It isn't that they don't know what they're doing. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah. 

DR. FAUCI: I think they have a situation in which they've been so overwhelmed from the beginning that they can't play catch up. And in direct answer to your question, MARGARET, it is may be, and I hope and I think it will be the case, that we will not be that way because we have from the beginning been able to put a bit of a clamp on it. We're going to get hit. There's no doubt about it. We see it in New York. New York is ter- is terribly suffering. But the kinds of mitigation issues that are going on right now, the things that we're seeing in this country, this physical separation, at the same time as we're preventing an influx of cases coming in, I think that's gonna go a long way to preventing us from becoming in Italy.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This was an animal virus that jumped to a human. 

DR. FAUCI: Correct.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Then it started spreading human to human. Is the virus mutating? Is it changing?

DR. FAUCI: Well, this is an RNA virus, MARGARET. And it always will mutate. The real question is so that people don't get confused. Viruses commute- mutate with no substantial impact on its function. So I have no doubt it's mutating as all RNA viruses mutate. We have not seen thus far any type of change in the way it's acting, but we are keeping a very close eye on it because it is conceivable that it could mutate and change some of the ways that it performs. But we have not seen that yet, but we're not going to just not pay attention to it. We're going to follow it closely.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's very important to highlight there. You know, one of the things that stood out this week in some of the briefings we heard from the White House, was this mentioned, particularly from your colleague, Ambassador Birx, that young people in Europe seemed to be affected in a way that was unexpected. 

DR. FAUCI: Right. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we heard from the CDC this week, 20 percent of the hospitalizations in this country were between the ages of 20 and 44. Why--

DR. FAUCI: You're absolutely--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --are young people getting affected this way when it wasn't expected?

DR. FAUCI: You're absolutely correct. And you just nailed the very important critical issue that we're looking very closely at. You know, it looks like there's a big difference between that demography, as we call it, from China and what we're seeing in Europe. Now, we have to look at the young people who are getting seriously ill from the European cohort and make sure it isn't just driven by the fact that they have underlying conditions because we know that underlying conditions, all bets are off. No matter how young you are, if you have an underlying serious medical condition, you're going to potentially get into trouble. But if they don't have underlying conditions, that will be something we have to really examine as to why we're seeing it here, but we didn't see it in China. So we're going to look at that very closely.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You mentioned in particular New York and what may be coming there. The president has tweeted this morning that Ford, GM and Tesla have been given the go ahead to make ventilators. There's been this back and forth over whether the president actually has ordered companies or not to produce needed medical equipment. What have these companies agreed to do and when will medical professionals have what they need?

DR. FAUCI: Well, I mean, as yesterday in the press conference that- that I'm sure you heard, what the president was saying is that these companies are coming forth on their own. And I think that's an extraordinary spirit of the American spirit of not needing to be coaxed. They're stepping forward. They're making not only masks, but PPEs and now ventilators. So what we're going to be seeing, and- and we're seeing it already, in the beginning, obviously, there was an issue with testing. The testing now- a large number of tests are available now, out there because the private companies have gotten involved. The--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But like the mayor of New York has said this week that he was going to run out of medical equipment--

DR. FAUCI: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --in a matter of two weeks. 

DR. FAUCI: That's true. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: So when will medical- it is true he will run out?

DR. FAUCI: No, no.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Will the federal government get him what he needs?

DR. FAUCI: True, true to both of them. Let me explain. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK.

DR. FAUCI: We were at- at the task force meeting yesterday, and it was very clear that the issue in New York was right on the front burner. And the situation is now that the resources that are being marshaled are going to be clearly directed to those hotspots that need it most. And clearly, that's California, Washington state, and obviously, New York is the most hard hit. So not only is New York trying to get resources themselves, but we're going to be pouring it in from the federal government. So it would be a combination of local and federal. But it's very, very clear that they are a very high priority.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You are the leading infectious disease expert in the U.S. government. You said this week that you differed from the president in his assessment that a combination of two drugs, hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin combined could have the outcome that he described to the public. They possibly could. Where- who is the president listening to? And do you see a concern here that those drugs could become, you know, basically oversubscribed and there could be a shortage that could impact people who have persistent medical issues like lupus and need those?

DR. FAUCI: OK. So, MARGARET, there's an issue here of where we're coming from. The president, as heard, as we all have heard, what are what I call anecdotal reports that certain drugs work. So what he was trying to do and express was the hope that if they might work, let's try and push their usage. I, on the other side, have said I'm not disagreeing with the fact anecdotally they might work but my job is to prove definitively from a scientific standpoint that they do work. So I was taking a purely medical, scientific standpoint and the president was trying to bring hope to the people. I think there's this issue of trying to separate the two of us. There isn't fundamentally a difference there. He's coming from it from a hope layperson standpoint. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK. 

DR. FAUCI: I'm coming from it from a scientific standpoint. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we wish you the best. Thank you very much, Doctor. 

DR. FAUCI: Good to be with you.