Fauci urges U.S. to ‘regroup’ as COVID-19 cases surge

Dr. Anthony Fauci says the U.S. needs to ‘regroup’ as coronavirus cases hit a new record. Harvard public health professor Dr. Howard Koh, a former top HHS official, speaks with Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous and Brian Sozzi about the latest on the spread of the virus.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: I want to move on to the coronavirus, because we have just reached another grim record in the spread of COVID-19. More than 77,000 new cases were reported just yesterday alone. That's according to Johns Hopkins. And there have now been more than 3 and 1/2 million confirmed cases here in the US.

Let's talk more about this now with Dr. Howard Koh. He is a professor at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, also a former assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Koh, always good to see you.

I want to start with what we saw happen yesterday between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Dr. Anthony Fauci. Zuckerberg interviewed Fauci on his platform and Fauci was talking about the state-- or not the state, the country needing to regroup and really have a time out here. Do you believe that states rushed to reopen?

HOWARD KOH: Unfortunately, Alexis, the answer to that is yes. And remember, we're now six months and counting into the worst pandemics our country has faced in a century. So many other countries around the world have gotten to the other side of this. And we in the United States have not.

And that's because we have not had national coordination or a national strategy. We've had 50 states going in 50 different directions. And many of the states reopened too early in hindsight. And we are now seeing, as you noted already, record cases and rising deaths now for the first time in three months.

So we're in the public health fight of our lives right now. And this is a time where our country needs to regroup. We're all looking for the best cures.

And there have been advances in therapeutics. But we don't have a cure yet. We're all looking for a vaccine. But that has not been finalized or approved by the FDA yet.

So what we have at our disposal is public health and prevention. We've got to take those public health and prevention measures and maximize this right now and hit that virus with everything we've got. That includes social distancing, hand hygiene, and, of course, masks, which are in the news a lot these days.

And we've got to get this down now before the fall comes and seasonal flu hits us as well.

BRIAN SOZZI: Doctor, as part of that-- as part of that regrouping process, do you think it's time to just shut the economy down again?

HOWARD KOH: Well, no one wants to do that. And everyone talks about the importance of the health crisis and the economic crisis. But we can't get the economy going again until we solve the health crisis first.

So I'm really hoping at this time, every leader at the federal, state, and local level focuses on the health, focuses on maximizing the prevention and public health measures we have, maximize mask use. We should have a national requirement for mask usage by now. I'm not sure why it hasn't happened yet.

Of note, just in the last week, five states have moved to have statewide policies on masks. Just yesterday we heard from Arkansas and Colorado and joined Texas and Montana and Alabama just several days before that. So the movement's going in the right direction, but it's not going fast enough.

BRIAN SOZZI: Doctor, on the mask front real quickly, do you think it's time to start handing out fines if you don't wear a mask?

HOWARD KOH: Well, there's a lot of discussion about enforcement. I think making masks available everywhere is very important. We need some sort of system of enforcement. But making this the right thing to do everywhere is really important.

I've noticed that the private sector has really stepped forward here with announcements by Walmart and CVS and Target just in recent days. So this is an effort where we've all got to work together and make this the new norm in our society.

JARED BLIKRE: Jared Blikre here. I just wanted to ask you, are there potential public health detrimental possibilities just caused by too much economic slowing? In other words, people don't have enough resources to get in to be able to maintain their lifestyles, they're not exercising as much, and then preventative medicine tends to get shut down. People are afraid to go to the hospital for serious injuries, like heart failure or a heart attack or stroke.

How does this weigh into the calculation?

HOWARD KOH: That's a great question. Unfortunately, we're starting to see data that people are skipping their usual prevention visits to hospitals. Or if they have chest pain or other signs of acute illness, they don't go to the doctor or the hospital as quickly as they should. And that is contributing to rising suffering and even deaths as well. We're starting to see data in that regard.

So this is why we've got to do this now together as a nation, tackle and solve this health crisis first. And then that's the only hope we have in getting the economy strong and getting back to normal again.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Doctor, to your point about masks, just a few moments ago, Georgia's governor, who had been holding out doing this, is now urging everyone to wear masks for the next four weeks. And we're also seeing that younger people, namely children, are getting the infection at an alarming rate. We've got Connecticut now saying they want to have kids back in school. In fact, we're going to be speaking with the governor of Connecticut, Ned Lamont, in the 10:00 hour about that.

Is it too soon to bring students back into the school in the fall? Should it be remote learning across the country?

HOWARD KOH: Well, that's the question every state and every family is wrestling with right now. Let me say, Alexis, at this current time, there are parts of the country, like in the Northeast, like Connecticut or Massachusetts or New York, where bringing students back might be feasible because the virus has been reasonably well contained for now. I mean, the signs are much improved in those parts of the country. So if the governor of Connecticut is considering this, I think that's a reasonable option if done very, very carefully and in collaboration with parents and teachers and community health officials, those sorts of partners.

But in other parts of the country, where the cases and deaths are rising, it's going to be very, very difficult to think about bringing kids back in person. So that's why places like Houston and San Francisco have already announced their schools are going to be all online this fall.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Yeah, well, I want to see what Florida does, because so far they're still saying the kids can come back, although we see-- we see the spike in cases there. Dr. Howard Koh, great to see you. Thanks for being with us this morning.

HOWARD KOH: Thanks for having me.