By Nikhila Natarajan
New York, April 7 (IANS) America’s top infectious diseases doctor on the White House task force indicated that America is unlikely to go back to a pre-coronavirus normal until the entire population is protected by therapeutics, followed by a vaccine.
Dr. Anthony Fauci’s comments came on a day when the US death toll from the coronavirus pandemic crossed 10,700 and the total caseload exceeded a quarter million people. There is as yet no approved drug specifically for COVID-19.
“Back to normal means acting like there never was a coronavirus problem? I don’t think that’s going to happen until we’re in a situation where you are able to completely protect the population,” Fauci said.
Meanwhile, in the hot spot of New York, the first glimmer shone that the outbreak here may be near its peak and levelling off. Announcing the latest data, Governor Andrew Cuomo cautioned that this is not the time to “play frisbee in the park” and ordered $1000 fines against violators.
“The numbers look like it may be turning. ‘Yay, it’s over!’ No, it’s not. And other places have made that mistake,” Cuomo said.
The New York City death toll has slowed for the third consecutive day, from 225 on April 2 to 217 on April 3 and 190 on April 5. Patient intubations are also reducing, Cuomo said. New cases, a crucial metric to assess if the infection curve is really flattening, are also going down in New York City. From 4462 cases on April 2, that number went down to 1054 for April 5.
Cuomo ordered schools and nonessential businesses to remain closed until the end of April. In New York state, the death toll rose past 4,700, and in New York City, the number is fast approaching the 2,753 lives lost at the World Trade Center on 9/11.
“Social distancing is making a difference but we all have to do more,” Dr Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus coordinator, urged Americans from the White House megaphone.
Birx urged Americans to minimise non essential trips for things like groceries to the absolute minimum.
“If you can go once in two weeks, please do that. I say this out of respect and solidarity for our frontline health care workers,” she said at a White House briefing. “This is the moment when Americans must take care of each other.”
Fauci expressed confidence that “over a period of time, we’ll get a good vaccine”. Both Fauci and Trump are upbeat that therapeutics will be available to Americans by Fall this year.
One of the main predictive models on the outbreak, from the University of Washington, has pared its projection to about 82,000 total US deaths through early August, which is less than its previous forecast a week ago.
According to Fauci, America’s new normal when it emerges from the worst phase of the crisis will be something “very different to what we are going through now.”
“When we go back to normal, we’ll go back to a way of life where we can function as a society. If you want to get to pre-coronavirus, that might not ever happen because the threat is there,” he said.
Fauci has cautioned that COVID-19 is showing all the signs that it could hit on a seasonal cycle and that a vaccine is the ultimate gamechanger. According to him, the most aggressive timeline could deliver a vaccine in “12-18 months”.
(Nikhila Natarajan can be contacted at @byniknat)