Dr. Anthony Fauci has been the nation's top infectious disease expert for decades, but he's the first to admit there are many things about the novel coronavirus that science still doesn't know. In a conversation with the Infectious Diseases Society of America, Fauci discussed several of these vexing issues in-depth and name-checked others he had discussed previously. These are the main things that even Fauci is still learning about COVID-19. Read on, and to keep yourself and others safe during this pandemic, don't miss this essential list of the Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
Fauci Says Testing is Still Not Perfect
Fauci said that some areas still haven't mastered testing for COVID-19; results aren't coming back fast enough to prevent future infections. "One of the things that still is not perfect is the time lag … between when you do a test and when you get the result back," he said. "We're still hearing in some places that that's an issue that needs to be corrected. If the primary purpose is to definitively identify someone who's infected and do the proper identification, isolation and contact tracing, if you have to wait several days—sometimes up to five to seven days—that kind of obviates the underlying reason for doing the contact tracing." He hopes rapid home testing will be available "in the near future."
Fauci Doesn't Know How Effective the Proposed Vaccines Are
Fauci noted that at least one potential vaccine will go into a phase three clinical trial by fall. "We should know by the end of this calendar year and maybe into the beginning of 2021…whether or not we have a vaccine that's safe and effective," he said.
Fauci Says Work is Still Being Done on Treatments for Mild Cases
Fauci noted that there haven't yet been advancements in treatment for mild cases of COVID-19. "That's the reason why there are so many studies going on now with monoclonal antibodies, for both prevention as well as treatment for outpatients and inpatients with early disease," he said. "We need to prevent people from progressing to the need for hospitalization." Researchers are also testing monoclonal antibodies (molecules that attack the virus), convalescent plasma and hyperimmune globulin. "Those are all the things that are being pursued with a heavy emphasis on early infection, as opposed to late," he said.
Fauci Says Much is Unknown About Transmissibility
In an interview with the Journey of the American Medical Association last month, Fauci said researchers are looking into the possibility that coronavirus is mutating to become more transmissible. "We don't have a connection between whether an individual does worse with this or not. It just seems that the virus replicates better and may be more transmissible. But this is still at the stage of trying to confirm that," he said.
Fauci Says the Extent of Asymptomatic Spread is Unclear
Fauci previously railed against the World Health Organization's statement that asymptomatic coronavirus transmission was rare, saying its extent was unclear. "[This] is not backed up by any data," he told Science News on June 9. "We know that there is asymptomatic transmission. . . . What we do not know is the extent to which that occurs. So when we hear statements that this is very rare, we do not know that as a fact."
Fauci Says More Work Must Be Done to Understand Long-Term, Chronic Health Problems
"We're starting to see more and more people who apparently recover from the actual viral part of it, and then weeks later, they feel weak, they feel tired, they feel sluggish, they feel short of breath," said Fauci during an Instagram interview with actor Matthew McConaughey on Aug. 13. "It's very disturbing, because if this is true for a lot of people, then just recovering from this may not be okay. You may have weeks where you feel not exactly correct."
Fauci Needs All the Facts About Droplets Versus Aerosols
It's possible that smaller, lighter particles of coronavirus can float in the air instead of dropping to the ground (a.k.a. droplets) as quickly as scientists thought, enabling people to inhale them and become infected—a process called aerosolization.
"I think that there certainly is a degree of aerosolization," said Fauci during an Aug. 3 interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association. "But I'm going to take a step back and make sure that we learn the facts before we start talking about it."
Fauci said particle physicists had advised him "we have a little bit of a distortion in our understanding of what can actually stay in the air longer" and that aerosolization of coronavirus might be more feasible than previously understood.
Fauci Says We Don't Fully Understand How The Virus Spreads In Indoor Vs. Outdoor Settings
In July, the New York Times reported on a Chinese study that found that the chance of coronavirus transmission was nearly 20 times higher indoors when compared to outdoors. But because researchers don't fully understand the extent to which the virus can be aerosolized, as Fauci mentioned, exactly how the virus spreads indoors is something he's still learning about.
As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Wear a face mask, avoid large gatherings, practice social distancing, wash your hands regularly, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 37 Places You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.