Dr. Anthony Fauci with Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump at a White House briefing.

Associated Press

Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview with NBC Sports on Saturday that there was little chance that the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, will be eradicated.

Fauci said that with “global travel, every single day, of literally hundreds of thousands of people coming into the United States every day from all over, there’s no chance we’re going to be virus-free.”

He said that the 2003 SARS outbreak, caused by another type of coronavirus, was contained largely because it didn’t spread as quickly as the novel coronavirus.

The novel coronavirus “is so transmissible, and it is so widespread throughout the world, that even if our infections get well controlled and go down dramatically during the summer, there is virtually no chance it will be eradicated,” Fauci said.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview with the NBC Sports football writer and columnist Peter King on Saturday that there was “virtually no chance” that the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, will be eradicated.

While many sports fans are hopeful that the virus will be controlled enough to hold a regular football season in the fall, Fauci said that given how contagious the virus is and how easily it can be spread by people with no symptoms, the logistical hurdles of holding any kind of large-scale team sporting event would be immense.

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Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, contrasted the novel coronavirus pandemic with the 2003 SARS outbreak. That disease, severe acute respiratory syndrome, is caused by another coronavirus that is genetically similar to the novel coronavirus, but it spread less quickly.

“So, unlike the virus SARS, back in 2002, when we had an outbreak of about 8,000 people and close to 800 deaths, and then the virus just essentially petered out by good public-health measures by the simple reason that it wasn’t efficiently or effectively transmitted from one person to another,” Fauci said.

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As of Monday, there were over 4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, including 1.3 million cases in the United States. The death toll in the US is nearing 80,000. And while some parts of the US have seen case counts decline, most states aren’t testing nearly enough people per day to consider safely reopening for business, according to estimates from the Harvard Global Health Institute.

“It is so transmissible, and it is so widespread throughout the world, that even if our infections get well controlled and go down dramatically during the summer, there is virtually no chance it will be eradicated,” Fauci said of the novel coronavirus.

Fauci told NBC that even if the US were to get its case numbers under control and adopt effective mitigation measures, it would be particularly difficult to stop the virus altogether once the world starts to resume international travel.

“There will be infections in the Southern Hemisphere, in South Africa, in Argentina, places like that,” Fauci said. “And with the travel, the global travel, every single day, of literally hundreds of thousands of people coming into the United States every day from all over, there’s no chance we’re going to be virus-free.”

The novel coronavirus is more contagious and deadlier than other viruses, like those that cause the seasonal flu, and a vaccine for it almost certainly won’t be available by the time flu season comes around. While early trials are underway, a deployable coronavirus vaccine won’t be ready for another 12 to 18 months, even by the most optimistic estimates.

In the absence of a vaccine, Fauci and other public-health experts have advocated testing at a far greater scale, using an army of contact tracers to locate and stop outbreaks in their tracks, and isolating and quarantining sick people.

“Now, even if the virus goes down dramatically in June and July and August, as the virus starts returning in the fall, it would be, in my mind, shame on us if we don’t have in place all of the mechanisms to prevent it from blowing up again,” Fauci said.

“In other words, enough testing to test everybody that needs to be tested. Enough testing so that when someone gets infected, you could immediately do contact tracing and isolation to prevent the infection from going to a couple of infections to hundreds of infections. That’s how you control an outbreak.”

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