Fauci blames virus surge on U.S. not shutting down completely

FILE PHOTO: Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases prepares to testify ahead of a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 30, 2020. Kevin Dietsch/Pool via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci on Monday ascribed the surge in U.S. coronavirus cases to the country’s failure to shut down completely, then a rush to reopen too soon, and urged a commitment to guidelines to snuff out the disease.

He stressed basic protections including physical distancing, wearing masks, avoiding crowds and washing hands. “Those things, as simple as they are, can turn it around. I think we can do that and that’s what we’ve got to do,” he said.

Fauci, who has issued firm warnings during the coronavirus surge, encouraged states to follow specific guidelines put forth by White House coronavirus health experts laying out distinct phases for easing restrictions.

“We did not shut down entirely and that’s the reason why when we went up,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with Stanford Medicine.

“We started to come down and then we plateaued at a level that was really quite high - about 20,000 infections a day. Then as we started to reopen, we’re seeing the surges that we’re seeing today as we speak in California, your own state, in Arizona, in Texas, in Florida and several other states.”

Many U.S. states began reopening their economies without meeting the criteria in the guidelines.

“Unfortunately, it did not work very well for us,” Fauci said, citing well publicized incidents of people crowding into bars or not wearing masks at close quarters.

Fauci said he was confident the United States would get a handle on the virus “if we step back, you don’t necessarily need to shut down again, but pull back a bit, and then proceed in a very prudent way of observing the guidelines, of going from step to step.”

Reporting by Makini Brice and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Franklin Paul and Howard Goller