Fauci: No one can predict how bad the pandemic will get this fall

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies before a House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing on Capitol Hill on July 31, 2020 in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, shown here testifying before a House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing on July 31 in Washington, D.C. (Image credit: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

As the school year approaches and flu season looms on the horizon, the U.S. continues to battle a worsening coronavirus pandemic. No one can predict how the pandemic will play out in the fall, the nation's top infectious disease expert said today.

"I do not know...nor can anyone know what the fall is going to bring," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said today (Aug. 3) during a Q&A put together by the Journal JAMA Network. Back in the spring, when the coronavirus was mainly ravaging the northeast, there was talk of a "second wave" in the fall, Fauci said. That was assuming these numbers would have dropped down to a baseline...but they have not.

"You look at our numbers now...we're right in the middle of the first wave here," he said. For the past couple of weeks, the U.S. has been tallying more than 60,000 cases a day and for the past week, around 1,000 deaths per day.

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"We've got to get those numbers down, if we don't get them down then were going to have a really bad situation in the fall," Fauci said.

That's because as the weather cools down, people start going indoors — where the virus spreads more easily — and the fall also marks the start of the flu season, he said.

There are "five easy things that one can do to try and turn that curve around so that as we enter the fall we're really at a low baseline," Fauci said. These handful of actions, we know from experience, can help blunt resurgences and prevent new ones from occurring, he said. 

The first is consistent — and correct — wearing of masks. Studies have shown that masks work to prevent disease spread. For example, a visualization showed that without a mask, droplets from coughing could travel up to 12 feet (3.7 meters) but that masks can limit that distance, sometimes to a few inches, according to a previous Live Science report.

The second and third are avoiding crowds and keeping distances of 6 feet (1.8 meters) or more between you and others, he said. The fourth is staying away from bars or places where people congregate and attending functions outdoors rather than indoors, he said. The fifth is washing your hands. 

If left to its own devices, the virus "is going to keep resurging," Fauci said. The only way we can stop it is through such countermeasures, he added. "And it can be done. It's not inevitable" that the virus will resurge, he said.

The country has recorded more than 4.6 million COVID-19 cases and 155,124 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the Johns Hopkins dashboard.

Originally published on Live Science.

Yasemin Saplakoglu
Staff Writer

Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.