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Top American health officials are trying to focus efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic via the asymptomatic spread, which may contribute as much as 50% of infections.
NIAID Director Anthony Fauci and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams were in lockstep during a series of appearances on Sunday morning talk shows, pushing the message that the asymptomatic spread is an unchecked element that is driving the severity of the pandemic.
WASHINGTON – SEPTEMBER 9: US Surgeon General Jerome Adams (L) and National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins (R) appear before a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to discuss vaccines and protecting public health during the coronavirus pandemic on September 9, 2020 in Washington DC. (Photo by Michael Reynolds- Pool/Getty Images)
"We say it, not being facetiously or having a soundbite or anything, but you know: the bars, keep the schools open, is what we really say," Fauci told Martha Raddatz on ABC's "This Week." "Obviously, you don't have one size fits all, but as I've said in the past, and as you accurately quoted me – the default position should be as best as possible, within reason, to keep the children in school and get them back to school."
Fauci noted that the spread of COVID-19 between children was "low," especially compared to other areas. Earlier this month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered all public schools to move to total virtual learning, a move that drew a sharp backlash from parents across the city.
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"The best way to ensure the safety of children in school is to get the community level of spread low."
Community spread was a term repeated by Fauci and Adams, with Fauci stressing that "the community level has determined how things go across the board."
The focus of the message, though, was on the asymptomatic spread – the fact that someone may have the virus but would not exhibit any symptoms, reporting that they feel fine. Asymptomatic carriers can still spread the virus, according to CDC guidance.
"Fox News Sunday" host Brett Baier asked Adams about a tweet he posted a few days prior, which touted a statistic claiming that the CDC estimates "more than 50% of all infections are transmitted from people who are not exhibiting symptoms."
"I want people to understand: in the beginning, we did not think, based on our experience with any other respiratory virus, that we would have this high degree of asymptomatic spread," Adams told Baier. "We now know that over 50% of people, according to the CDC, who are spreading this virus in the community look and feel fine."
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, attends a Coronavirus Task Force news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, April 10, 2020. Photographer: Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images
"That's why we want you to know that household gatherings have been super spreader events," Adams added. "They've been opportunities that have led to viral spread."
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Fauci highlighted the CDC's attempt to dissuade Americans from traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday – an effort that failed to prevent as many as 5 million travelers from moving around the country over the days leading up to Thanksgiving Day.
"We tried to get the word out, as difficult as it is to not have large gatherings of people and family," Fauci told "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd. "But people are not going to do that, unfortunately, so what we expect to see as we enter December is a surge superimposed on that surge we're already seeing."
Fauci also continued to push the need for convenient testing, a "less sensitive" test that is "easy, cheap, maybe even a home test," which would help provide the CDC and other agencies with a clear picture of the full penetrance of the virus.
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"We have the ability to blunt that by doing things short of locking down, so we don't precipitate the necessity of locking down," Fauci added.