Dr. Fauci Advises Against This One COVID Safety Measure
The nation's top infectious disease expert says it's best not to "overreact" in this case.
After weeks of public optimism surrounding the approval and release of two effective coronavirus vaccines, the world was jolted back to a harsh reality when it was revealed that a new strain of the virus had been discovered in the U.K. With scientists reporting that the variation is potentially 70 percent more contagious than the original strain, health officials around the world began to take action to control its spread beyond Britain's borders. But Anthony Fauci, MD, took a stance against banning U.K. visitors in the U.S., saying that while we should "without a doubt keep an eye on it," it's important to remember that "we don't want to overreact" to the new strain with unnecessarily stringent COVID restrictions.
In an interview with CNN on Dec. 21, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) director signaled that he would oppose halting U.S.-bound flights from the U.K. if the topic were to come up at a White House Coronavirus Task Force meeting. Read on to see why he's against the new measures and what others think should be done. And for more on the new strain, check out Will the New COVID Strain Make the Vaccine Useless? Experts Weigh In.
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Fauci doesn't think the new strain warrants a heavy-handed response.
While being clear that he wasn't criticizing other countries' decisions to ban arriving travelers from the U.K., Fauci said he believes that any travel restrictions might be premature given the information that's currently available. During the live interview with CNN, he pointed out that health officials in the U.K. were doing the right thing by monitoring the development of the strain, but that current evidence doesn't point to the variation being any deadlier or more resistant to the vaccines that are currently being administered.
"Follow it carefully, but don't overreact to it," Fauci advised. And for more on red flags that you might already be sick, check out If Your Symptoms Appear in This Order, You May Have Severe COVID.
Some experts agreed with Fauci's cautious approach…
Fauci wasn't alone in advising on holding back from taking further action at this point. During an interview on CNN's New Day on Dec. 21, Admiral Brett Giroir, MD, the White House COVID-19 testing czar, said while "everything [was] on the table," he was also waiting for more information before making any kind of ruling.
"I think we're waiting for CDC kind of recommendations," Giroir said. "Last night, talking to [CDC director Robert Redfield, MD], there was not a recommendation for that. Again, every hour we get more information. I think, as we have done and we need to do, we need to listen to the best experts."
Other health experts also noted that the new strain's reported 70 percent increase in contagiousness was based on computer modeling, not laboratory data, and warned that more research was needed before issuing any kind of major restrictions.
"Overall, I think we need to have a little bit more experimental data," Muge Cevik, MD, an infectious disease expert at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a scientific adviser to the British government, told The New York Times. "We can't entirely rule out the fact that some of this transmissibility data might be related to human behavior." And for more regular coronavirus updates, sign up for our daily newsletter.
But other officials vehemently disagreed.
Still, other elected officials bristled publicly at the idea of allowing U.K. travelers to continue entering the U.S., like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who asserted that the chance of a more contagious strain arriving from abroad was something that could be avoided with decisive action.
"Why don't we act intelligently for a change?" Cuomo asked rhetorically during his regular daily press briefing on Dec. 21. "Right now, this variant in the U.K. is getting on a plane and flying to JFK… Why don't we mandate testing before people get on the flight or halt the flights from the U.K. now? Many other countries have done this." Cuomo warned that "this is another disaster waiting to happen." And for more on other places that are currently struggling with the coronavirus, check out This State Is the New Epicenter of the COVID Pandemic.
More than 20 countries have closed their borders to travelers from the U.K.
As of Dec. 21, a growing list of countries including Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and Russia have restrictions or bans on travel to and from Britain, The New York Times reports. This has also caused chaos for freight shipments at the border. And for more advice from the White House, check out A White House Official Just Gave This Warning About the New COVID Mutation.