If there is one important piece of advice to share with Hawaii residents to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said it would be to “wear a mask.”
“I’m serious. That’s it,” said Fauci toward the end of a 30-minute conversation with Lt. Gov. Josh Green livestreamed on ‘Olelo this morning. “There’s no doubt that that works. Wear a mask and try to avoid congregate settings — a whole bunch of people together, some of whom don’t have masks, crowded, indoors, is really bad news.”
Hawaii Department of Health on Tuesday reported the statewide total of coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic was at 12,937 and the coronavirus-related death toll was 160.
Fauci also said Hawaii can get its economy back if done prudently and carefully.
Other simple public health measures, he said, include keeping a distance and following the 6-foot rule, avoiding crowds and doing activities outdoors rather than indoors, and washing your hands frequently.
“If we do those five things,” Fauci said, “we know from a number of studies, you will prevent surges and you will be able to get in a situation where you don’t have a large amount of community spread. We know that. It’s been proven.”
Fauci said the United States seemed well prepared prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, but that “as it played out, we got hit worse than any other country in the world,” with more than 211,400 deaths and more than 7.5 million cases.
“If you look at where we are right now we’re stuck at 40,000 new infections each day,” he said. “That is what I call a baseline level that we need to get much, much lower than that. The reason I say that is, that in and of itself it inherently is too high. We need to get down way below 10,000. Because when you’re that high there’s so much community spread that the standard ways of identification, isolation and contact tracing don’t work very well.”
Fauci said one of his concerns is that — with the exception of Hawaii — as fall and winter arrive, more people will be driven indoors, causing respiratory diseases such as COVID-19 to get worse.
An estimated 40% to 45% of people who are infected with the new coronavirus do not have symptoms, according to Fauci, and that causes a big problem in identifying who is spreading the infection in a community.
During the conversation, Green shared that he just recovered from COVID-19 about a week ago, and that he and a colleague were both masked while sharing a car. His colleague had no major symptoms other than a mild cough. But they took their masks off while sipping coffee, which Green said is how he caught it.
After two bad days of symptoms, Green said he improved, but that he has seen “terrible suffering from the disease” in the hospital.
Fauci clarified that the new coronavirus can be spread through aerosolized droplets, particularly indoors, for several minutes, and possibly further than 6 feet. There have been demonstrations of people sitting on different ends of a restaurant that got infected, he said.
His advice is to wear a mask, conduct activities outdoors rather than indoors — and if indoors, keep the windows open.
As for Hawaii’s new pre-travel testing program, which begins next week, he said he had no definitive answer on what to do.
Starting Oct. 15, visitors that get an approved negative test for COVID-19 within 72 hours of travel to Hawaii will be able to bypass a mandatory, 14-day quarantine, according to Gov. David Ige, who greenlighted the program last month after numerous delays.
Mayors from neighbor isles, however, are pushing for a follow-up test for travelers after their arrival to Hawaii. On Tuesday, Hawaii island Mayor Kim said his county would not participate in the program, but keep the mandatory, 14-day quarantine in place for visitors.
“The reality is no matter what you do, there are going to be infected people who slip through the cracks,” said Fauci.
Surveillance testing for travelers after they arrive in Hawaii is a possibility, he said, with special attention to those at greater risk, including college students coming back from hot spots.
Regarding a COVID-19 vaccine, Fauci said there was no guarantee, but that he was cautiously optimistic the U.S. will know whether it has a safe and effective one by November or December.
Watch the video above.