DENVER — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease specialist, said Tuesday that the surge of coronavirus cases in Colorado mirrors the nationwide spread of COVID-19 and that holiday gatherings could lead to a "surge upon a surge" in the coming weeks, even as a vaccine nears distribution.
Still, Fauci was hesitant to recommend considering lockdown-style restrictions, unless hospital capacity begins to become overrun, warning that a lockdown could amplify "COVID fatigue."
Fauci was speaking in a joint virtual news conference with Colorado Gov. Jared Polis about COVID-19 in Colorado. The state reported 4,405 new cases Tuesday, and Polis, who was infected with the virus last week, is still isolating at home.
Much of Fauci's input Tuesday was generalized to the issue of COVID-19 across the nation, not specifically to Colorado.
He emphasized the importance of the next month and the need to remain socially distant, wear masks and avoid large congregate settings, such as limiting family gatherings and in-person Christmas shopping. And while cases continue to surge, there is hope on the horizon with multiple COVID-19 vaccines soon to be distributed.
Fauci said up to 20 million Americans could begin receiving the vaccine this month and that the general population should have access to the vaccine by April. Fauci urged Americans to get the vaccine, when available, saying he is confident the vaccine is safe and that he will be taking it himself.
"Vaccines are literally on the threshold for us," Fauci said. "We just need to hang together a bit longer."
Fauci encouraged Americans to "hang in there."
"Help is on the way, and we are going to get out of this," Fauci said. "We are going to get through this, and we will be back to normal the way we were before this plague hit us."
In the meantime, Polis and Fauci stressed the need for wearing a mask. Both acknowledged that mask-wearing is not a perfect preventative measure. But Fauci emphasized that data shows that wearing a mask does reduce the spread of COVID-19.
"If no one wore masks, you would see many more acquisitions and transmissions of infections," Fauci said. "We don't want the expectation of the perfect to be the enemy of the good that masks can do."
Fauci and Polis were both asked about Mayor Michael Hancock's recent travel for the Thanksgiving holiday. Hancock had urged Denverites to avoid traveling for Thanksgiving but flew to Mississippi to spend the holiday with his wife and daughter.
Fauci said, in general, that "mixed messaging" from those in authority could be "detrimental to the purpose you are trying to get a message for."
Polis wished Hancock well and said he hopes that he does not become infected with the virus.
Polis over the weekend announced that he and his partner, First Gentleman Marlon Reis, tested positive for COVID-19. Polis said he and Reis are feeling well and recovering at home.
Polis was also asked about an op-ed in The Denver Post from 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, who claimed that Colorado will prioritize prisoners over some high-risk older adults when distributing the vaccine.
Polis disputed Brauchler's claim.
"That won't happen," Polis said. "There’s no way that prisoners are going to get it before members of the vulnerable population. As we do 65 and up, I would think that would include prisoners that are in that category. But the vast majority of people 65 and up are free. It will first go to people in nursing homes, veterans facilities, frontline workers. So there’s no way it’s going to go to prisoners before it goes to people who haven’t committed any crime, that’s obvious. So those [claims] are just false."