By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch
COVID-19 doesn’t care who you will vote for in November.
That’s the message from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and expert on infectious diseases for four decades. He delivered some blunt messages to the American public during an online video interview this week. In an election year, he asked the American people NOT to politicize the coronavirus pandemic.
In response to a question from actor Matthew McConaughey about the politicization of the virus, he talked about other times in U.S. history. “Our country has been through very, very difficult situations. We’ve been through a Depression, we’ve been through a World War. We pulled together through 9/11.” But if you are not taking precautions, “You are part of the problem rather than the solution.”
Fauci also said that aiming for 100% herd immunity, which the U.K. briefly contemplated and Sweden attempted before reversing their policy, instead of maintaining safety procedures and waiting for a vaccine in early 2021, would have dire consequences. “If everyone contracted it, a lot of people are going to die,” he said. “You’re talking about a substantial portion of the population.”
Coronavirus, perhaps inevitably, has been politicized. Some outlandish and unsubstantiated rumors about COVID-19 persist. To adherents of such beliefs, it’s a dastardly bioweapon designed to wreak economic armageddon on the West; a left-wing conspiracy to damage the re-election prospects of President Trump; a virus that leaked from a Wuhan, China, laboratory, perhaps with intent.
Paranoia politicizes a global public-health emergency and distract from potentially life-saving measures to contain and/or slow the spread of coronavirus, health professionals say. Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to think the coronavirus threat is “exaggerated,” a survey of 4,633 adults released last March found. (Some 62% of Republicans vs. 31% of Democrats felt that way.)
Last month, social-media sites attempted to quash a video on hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment — which led to Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR -0.04% partially suspending Donald Trump Jr.’s account. The video featured doctors calling hydroxychloroquine — a malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis treatment — “a cure for COVID,” despite scientific evidence stating otherwise.
More Democrats than Republicans support the wearing of face masks, but the gap is closing. Some 45% of Republicans say they wear facial coverings “all the time,” according to an Axios/Ipsos nationally representative poll taken last month; that’s up from 35% at the end of June. Some 95% of Democrats say they “some or all of the time outside the house” versus 74% of Republicans.
That may be partly due to the change of heart by President Trump on the issue. The president said last month, “I have no problems with the masks. If you’re close together, I would put on the mask.” A day earlier, he tweeted a photo of himself wearing a mask with a presidential seal: “Many people say that it is Patriotic to wear a face mask when you can’t socially distance.”
In the absence of a vaccine, Fauci told McConaughey that social distancing, regular hand washing and face masks are the only alternatives as “herd immunity” — where those who are immune protect the most vulnerable in the population — is not feasible for coronavirus. That requires a very high level of population immunity for COVID-19, and for the virus to not mutate.
Island nations and Asian countries, such as New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea, managed to control coronavirus. These countries shut down decisively, avoiding the worst of the pandemic, and carried out more effective contact tracing to prevent community spread. Warmer island nations, he said, may have better weathered COVID-19 as people spend more time outside.
<STRONG /> <STRONG /> Asked by McConaughey whether he had “$1 million” invested in a coronavirus vaccine, Fauci laughed: “I have zero. I am a government worker. I have a government salary. That’s it!” He kept his original prediction that there will be a vaccine available early next year when, he said, there will be a “moderate” amount available. “As we get well into 2021, we should have enough for everybody.”
Coronavirus update: COVID-19 has now killed at least 776,157 people worldwide, and the U.S. ranks 10th in the world for deaths per 100,000 people (51.5), Johns Hopkins University says. As of Monday, the U.S. has the world’s highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases (5,408,268) and deaths (170,131). Worldwide, confirmed cases are now at 21,720,713.
The Dow Jones Industrial Index /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +0.66% was down slightly Monday, while the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +0.74% and Nasdaq /zigman2/quotes/210598365/realtime COMP +0.88% were trading marginally higher as investors await progress on a vaccine and, as Democrats and Republicans debate the details of the next unemployment benefits, round two of the economic stimulus program.
AstraZeneca /zigman2/quotes/200304487/composite AZN +0.62% in combination with Oxford University, BioNTech SE /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +9.35% and partner Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +1.00% , GlaxoSmithKline /zigman2/quotes/209463850/composite GSK +1.16% , Johnson & Johnson /zigman2/quotes/201724570/composite JNJ +0.45% , Merck & Co. ID:MERK -0.92% , Moderna /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA +1.65% , and Sanofi /zigman2/quotes/202859081/composite SAN +0.77% , among others, are currently working on COVID-19 vaccines.