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Fauci, Birx say we'll see COVID-19 spike from Thanksgiving in coming days

The doctors emphasized the importance of measures like wearing a mask and getting tested as we wait for a vaccine.

Drs. Fauci and Birx
Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx urge people to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing.
Getty Images

As the world waits for the mass distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, the US' top coronavirus and infectious-disease experts are emphasizing the importance of wearing a mask, getting tested, washing your hands and practicing social distancing. This remains especially critical as the US sees a surge in cases that's only projected to get worse in the coming days following Thanksgiving travel. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, spoke about the issues during Tuesday's Wall Street Journal CEO Council Summit.

"We have not yet seen the full blunt and the effect of the traveling and the congregating," Fauci said. "That should be sometime probably next week or a week and a half, and then we're going to enter into the Christmas season, again with more traveling and with more congregating at family and social gatherings. So we're in for a very challenging period, and the only way we're going to counter that is by a consistent, uniform implementation and adherence to public health measures."

Birx noted that public spaces have gotten safer, but transmissions are moving to private spaces. 

"People need to understand how much asymptomatic spread there is," she said. "Vaccines are coming soon, but it will take awhile to vaccinate people in the United States. The only prevention we have is behavioral change."

Dozens of vaccine candidates are in development around the world, but two -- from Pfizer and Moderna -- claim to be 95% and 94% effective, respectively, against coronavirus. They've both sought emergency approval from the US Food and Drug Administration to get vaccines distributed as early as the end of December. Health care workers will be prioritized to receive the vaccine, as well as people at higher risk of infection due to age, underlying conditions or profession. 

The sooner the US can convince the overwhelming majority of people to get vaccinated once it becomes available to the general public (which is likely in late spring), the sooner things will be "close to normal," Fauci said.

"We're not going to be able to immediately abandon public health measures," he said. "But the stringency of that and the requirement of that will progressively diminish as we get more and more of the herd immunity."

Fauci said he's already accepted President-elect Joe Biden's request to serve as his chief medical adviser. It's not yet clear what Birx's role could potentially be in Biden's administration, but she noted she will be involved in the government in some capacity, and has already briefed the incoming administration. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.