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Fauci says delayed transition is a public health issue as Covid-19 cases soar

"That is obvious," Fauci said on CNN. "Of course it would be better if we could start working with" Joe Biden's team.
Image: COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit Within A Houston Hospital Cares For Patients As Cases Continue To Rise
Medical staff members prepare to treat a patient suffering from Covid-19 in the intensive care unit at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston on Saturday.Go Nakamura / Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's leading infectious disease expert, said Sunday that it is "obvious" that delaying the presidential transition is not good from a public health perspective as daily Covid-19 case numbers continue to soar and set records.

"I have been through multiple transitions now, having served six presidents for 36 years," Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN's "State of the Union." "And it's very clear that that transition process that we go through, that time period of measured in several weeks to months, is really important in a smooth handing over of the information."

Comparing the transition process to "passing a baton in a race," he said, "It certainly would make things more smoothly if we could do that."

Asked whether he thinks it would be a good idea if his team could work with President-elect Joe Biden's transition team now, Fauci said, "Of course."

"That is obvious," he added. "Of course it would be better if we could start working with them."

President Donald Trump's refusal to concede the election and his continued legal battles across several battleground states have delayed the start of the formal transition process, blocking Biden from gaining access to key information. Biden's team has said the transition is progressing in spite of Trump, but officials have acknowledged that the longer the delay goes on, the worse its effects will be.

Meanwhile, case counts have surged nationwide, with record day following record day. On Friday, cases nationwide neared 180,000 in a single day, up by nearly 20,000 from Thursday. Hospitalization numbers are rapidly increasing, too.

Image: Dr. Anthony Fauci
Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during a Senate hearing in Washington on March 3.Stefani Reynolds / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Also speaking on "State of the Union," Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said "it's important for a normal transition" to begin.

"It's clear," DeWine said, "Joe Biden is the president-elect."

"For the country's sake, it's important for a normal transition to start through," he said. "And the president can go on his other track and his legal track. We should respect that, but we also need to begin that process."

Dr. Atul Gawande, a member of the Biden transition team's Covid-19 advisory board, said on ABC News' "This Week" that Biden needs access to privileged information about the coronavirus so he can be fully prepared to deal with it once he takes office.

"It is in the nation's interest that the transition team get the threat assessments that the team knows about ... understand the vaccine distribution plans, need to know where the stockpiles are, what the status is of masks and gloves," he said. "There's a lot of information that needs to be transmitted. It can't wait until the last minute."

Elsewhere in his interview, Fauci said it is possible for the U.S. to record 200,000 more coronavirus deaths in just the next two months. So far, nearly 250,000 people in the U.S. have died because of the virus.

There was positive news on the vaccine front last week as Pfizer announced that its trial candidate had reached 90 percent effectiveness. But Fauci said caution should not be abandoned once people are vaccinated.

"So, when I get vaccinated, which I hope to when it becomes my turn to get vaccinated, I'm not going to abandon completely public health measures," Fauci said. "I could feel more relaxed, in essentially not having the stringency of it that we have right now, but I think abandoning it completely would not be a good idea."

Fauci also praised Biden for selecting Ron Klain as his chief of staff, saying he worked closely with Klain in 2014-15 during the Ebola virus outbreak.

"He was absolutely terrific at the Ebola situation, where we had a very successful ultimate endgame with Ebola," Fauci said. "We developed therapies. We put out the outbreak in a — it was a terrible outbreak, obviously. But we ultimately were very successful."

Speaking on NBC News' "Meet the Press," Klain also stressed the importance of beginning the formal transition.

"Biden's going to become president in the midst of an ongoing crisis," he said. "Our experts need to talk to those people as soon as possible so nothing drops."

Fauci said Trump has not attended a White House coronavirus task force meeting for "several months." Speaking on "This Week," Dr. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, also confirmed that the president has not attended such a meeting in five months

"The vice president is there, Secretary Azar, the leadership that's there, the scientific community, Dr. Birx, Dr. Fauci, myself, Dr. Hahn, Dr. Redfield," Giroir said. "We're all working, and the docs work literally every single day together."

(Alex Azar is the secretary of health and human services, Dr. Deborah Birx is the response coordinator for the White House coronavirus task force, Dr. Stephen Hahn is the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Dr. Robert Redfield is the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

Speaking about surging case numbers, Giroir said the U.S. is "in a critical situation today," saying Americans need to physically distance and wear masks in public spaces.

"That's absolutely critically important," he said. "They do work."