Fauci calls 200,000 pandemic death toll ‘sobering, and in some respects, stunning’

(CNN) — Dr. Anthony Fauci on Tuesday said the US reaching 200,000 coronavirus deaths is “very sobering, and in some respects, stunning,” while adding that Americans should trust medical experts despite at times conflicting signals from the highest levels of government.

“The idea of 200,000 deaths is really very sobering, and in some respects, stunning,” the nation’s top infectious doctor told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta during the Citizen by CNN conference shortly before the US reached the grim milestone late Tuesday morning. “We do have within our capability — even before we get a vaccine, which we will get reasonably soon — we have the capability by doing things that we have been speaking about for so long, Sanjay, that could prevent the transmission, and by preventing transmission, ultimately preventing the morbidity and mortality that we see.” He mentioned measures such as frequent hand washing and mask wearing.

Fauci said he is concerned about the country not having control of the virus’ spread ahead of the winter season that could exacerbate it.

“And depending upon your own social situation, indoors for you or another person may mean poor ventilation, poor air flow. And difficulty getting the kind of removal of anything that would lead to spread,” adding that he’d like to see the US go into the fall and winter months “at such a low level that when you have the inevitable cases, you can handle them.”

“I don’t want to really make this kind of a dark thing that ‘oh, my goodness, it’s inevitable that we are going to get into serious trouble,'” he continued. “We can’t throw our hands up and say, ‘It’s hopeless, it’s going to happen anyway.’ That is unacceptable to take that approach. On the other hand, it’s not acceptable to not realize that we are entering into a risk period and we’ve got to act accordingly as we enter into that risk period.”

President Donald Trump had praised his administration’s response to the pandemic on Monday, telling “Fox & Friends” that “we’ve done a phenomenal job” and giving himself an “A+” on how he has handled the virus.

Fauci, answering a question Tuesday from a viewer on what grade he would give Trump’s pandemic response, said, “Take a look at the numbers and make up your own mind.”

“I mean, you know, we don’t need a sound bite from me. Take a look at the numbers,” he said.

On Monday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention abruptly reverted to its previous guidance about how coronavirus is transmitted, removing language about airborne transmission it had posted days earlier. The move added to confusion about the virus spurred by mixed messaging from the White House on preventative measures and mask wearing. Many doctors and researchers have also cautioned for months that the virus can be transmitted through small airborne viral particles.

Asked where people should get trusted information about the virus, Fauci said Tuesday, “they need to get it by following the scientific data and the scientific evidence.”

“The fact is you’ve got to go with the scientific data,” he said. “One of the things that the public needs to understand is that this is an evolving situation and the people who say, ‘Well, how can I trust anybody because things change,’ what changes is the fact that we are in an evolving outbreak. And the things that we did not know a few months ago allowed us to at the time use the scientific information to make recommendations that were appropriate at the time and because the data were telling us at the same time. As we learned more, things changed. It’s appropriate to make changes in recommendations based on the additional knowledge that you know.”

He also said one can assume “that some aspect of transmission can be and is by aerosol” and said “it doesn’t change anything that we have been saying: It means wear your mask.”