White House Advisor Flops On Whether Travel Bans Work During Pandemics

White House Advisor Flops On Whether Travel Bans Work During Pandemics
President Donald Trump looks on next to Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases during a meeting at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland on March 3, 2020. (Photo: Getty Images)

U.S. President Donald Trump announced a travel ban on flights coming from 26 European countries on Thursday, something that many public health experts believe is ineffective now that COVID-19 is spreading quickly in the United States. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of President Trump’s top health experts, is defending the ban, despite saying just a few weeks ago that global travel restrictions would be “irrelevant” in the event of a pandemic.

Dr. Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force, has appeared on countless TV shows over the past few weeks, explaining to Americans just how dangerous the new coronavirus is for public health. But Fauci’s advice for the nation was very different when Fauci appeared on CNBC as recently as February 27.

“Is there any talk of closing flights from Europe or flights from Asia, outside of China?” CNBC host Sara Eisen asked Dr. Fauci on February 26.

“No, I don’t think at all that that will happen,” Fauci responded. “When you have a pandemic that involves multiple countries, travel restrictions become almost irrelevant because you can’t keep out the entire world.”

“When it was focused on China, we had a period of time, temporary, that we could do a travel restriction that prevented cases from coming into the United States,” Fauci continued. “But when you have multiple countries involved it’s very difficult to do that. In fact, it’s impossible.”

But Dr. Fauci has been saying something very different his week both to national news media like ABC News, as well as during congressional testimony yesterday.

“We spent a lot of time thinking about it, discussing it, about whether we should do it and it was the right public health call,” Dr. Fauci told reporters about the travel ban on the White House lawn yesterday.

“If you look today at the majority of cases that are new cases, new cases throughout the world, the majority of them are from Europe. If you look in the United States, states that have new cases, the majority of them are coming from that region.”

You can watch Dr. Fauci’s comments side-by-side on YouTube.

The difficult thing to figure out, however, is whether Dr. Fauci is correct about the percentage of new cases in the U.S. coming from Europe. Fauci, who’s highly respected in the medical community, doesn’t seem to have his facts straight.

The U.S. has administered perhaps 11,000 tests total since the pandemic began, according to a U.S. House briefing on Thursday, making it hard to figure out precisely how many cases of community transmission there are in America. And those tests don’t even mean that 11,000 people have been tested, since multiple tests are often conducted as back-ups for each patient. Other countries have tested tens of thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of people.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the covid-19 outbreak a pandemic on Wednesday, and many public health experts agree with the old Dr. Fauci rather than his new talking points.

“From a public health perspective, it’s remarkably pointless,” Francois Balloux, an epidemiologist at University College London, told National Public Radio yesterday about the U.S. new travel ban on flights from Europe.

“If you bring in one or two additional people—once you’ve lost completely the ability to do any contact tracing—it won’t make any difference,” Balloux said.

Dr. Fauci has also come under fire for not giving advice that’s specific enough when he appears on all these TV shows. Dr. Marty Makary from Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health said on CNBC yesterday that he didn’t believe Fauci was doing enough to prepare the public.

“To be honest with you, what has Dr. Anthony Fauci been saying? He has been giving the most generic and vague recommendations,” Dr. Makary said.

“Completely absent from what he has been saying on every network—and he’s the doc that every network has on—has been no preparation details, no specifics,” Makary said. “What about closing our schools? What about contingency plans for public events? What about what businesses do? What about an employee that doesn’t feel comfortable coming into her job as a cashier? These are the specifics where we need specific plans and we need to do something.”

“We’re asking the public to get prepared, and why are we not hearing this from Anthony Fauci?” Makary said.

Makary went on to say that the message to Americans needs to be more direct, explaining that people should be stocking up on food and essential prescription medicine.

“I think every household—regardless of what politicians and government leaders say—every household should declare a state of emergency. Get three months of food and necessary medications, whatever essential meds somebody might be on, and get ready to hunker down,” Makary said, adding that many Americans are “in denial.”

Dr. Makary also said that while Dr. Fauci is telling Congress he doesn’t know how many people are infected with covid-19, “probably a quarter to half a million people have it.”

“Look, we’re going to see probably over 1,000 deaths per day during the peak of this thing,” Makary said. That’s not something we’re prepared for.”