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D-H experts discuss pandemic with Fauci

  • Shown in a screen grab, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at bottom, participates in a video conference with leaders from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine on Monday.

  • Fauci

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/4/2020 5:42:03 PM

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has helped lead the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, told more than 2,600 Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Geisel School of Medicine employees and students on a Monday Zoom call that leaders at the national level “cannot make one statement” about whether and how to reopen schools.

Instead, Fauci, who in his 36 years directing the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has advised six presidents, said that local leaders need to weigh the risks and benefits of reopening schools based on the levels of transmission in the community.

“We’ve got to be very flexible,” he said, during the lunchtime forum hosted by D-H CEO Joanne Conroy.

Fauci, who trained at what is now NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City with emeritus Geisel dean Dr. James Strickler, who introduced him on Monday, addressed questions ranging from how to safely reopen schools, to encouraging mask-wearing and getting people to get a COVID-19 vaccine once it’s available.

Because of the detrimental effects of keeping children out of school on the children themselves and on their parents’ ability to work, Fauci said, “(we) should try to the best of our ability to open the schools.”

But, he said, doing so may not be safe everywhere.

Cases in the Twin States are low. Vermont had one new case on Monday. There are six current infections in Grafton County and five in Sullivan County, according to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. But several Hanover-area residents have expressed concern about Dartmouth College’s plan to bring back 2,200 undergraduates — about half its student body — to campus next month.

Dr. Lisa Adams, a D-H infectious disease physician who is co-chair of the college’s COVID taskforce, said during a panel discussion after Fauci had signed off that Dartmouth officials have been carefully tracking the case numbers in the region and the college’s plan relies on “robust initial testing” in order to identify cases quickly and early. The plan also relies on wastewater testing to identify dorms where students may be infected, which will be done in conjunction with D-H, and many of the school’s courses will be taught online, she said.

Dartmouth students returning to campus will have to quarantine for 14 days and undergo testing, with some limited activities outside their rooms allowed if their tests come back negative. Students who fail to comply with the school’s requirements to mitigate the virus’ transmission could face discipline ranging up to suspension or expulsion, and organizations such as fraternities could face similar sanctions if they ignore the health and safety protocols, according to the college.

Still, Conroy and others at D-H said they are preparing for an increase in cases in the region as students return to Dartmouth and other schools in the Twin States from across the country and overseas.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Conroy said. “I get used to wearing a mask everywhere I go.”

As the country awaits a vaccine, which Fauci said he’s “cautiously optimistic” will be ready early next year, he advised that people protect themselves and others from the new coronavirus by wearing masks, avoiding crowds and bars, keeping more than 6 feet away from others, staying outdoors as much as possible and washing their hands.

“Everybody should be seriously looking at that and doing that,” said Fauci, who has weathered negative attacks from some members of the Trump administration.

In response to a question from Conroy about how to accelerate the public acceptance of mask wearing, Fauci noted that one obstacle is that young people generally develop less severe symptoms, if any, from COVID-19, which can make it difficult for them to take the virus seriously. In addition, Fauci noted that wearing masks has become a political issue, but he said “more and more people are accepting that” wearing masks and avoiding crowds can help to blunt the current surge and to prevent those in the future.

Looking to the future, Dr. Antonia Altomare, a D-H infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist, asked Fauci how the medical community can encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccine that is expected to be ready by early next year.

Despite the speed at which the vaccines have been developed, Fauci said he has confidence in their safety and the scientific integrity of the process.

But Fauci said the medical community has its work cut out for it in informing the public of such a vaccine’s safety and necessity in protecting public health, acknowledging the “anti-vaccine/anti-science feeling in this country that we’ve got to overcome.”

Conroy, the D-H CEO, said at the end of Fauci’s appearance that he was regarded as a “rock star here in New Hampshire and Vermont” and that she had even seen “Fauci 2020” signs in the region.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

Update : This story has been updated to reflect the number of people who streamed the event live. An earlier version reflected the number who registered.

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