Gov. Phil Murphy held Facebook Live chat with Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Thursday morning, in which the doctor warned that cases will occur as temps cool and more people gather indoors but New Jersey is in better shape than most states.
"The good news about New Jersey is you got hit badly, but if you carefully and imprudently open up your economy, you can get through the fall and winter," said Fauci, but he added that a plan must be in place to slow the spread. He also offered advice on how people can continue to protect themselves from the virus and discussed the future of vaccination.
Fauci began the conversation by applauding everything the Garden State has done so far to control the spread of COVID-19, including physical distancing, masks, hand washing and spending time outdoors. There were 588 new CVOID-19 cases reported in New Jersey on Thursday, according to Murphy, and Fauci says that means the state is in good shape because the baseline is so low.
New Jersey has been fighting to keep the infection rate low as schools reopen, which led to small upticks and clusters. Indoor dining is among businesses that have brought bring customers back, but so far, there haven't been any reported increase of COVID-19 cases linked to it.
On Wednesday, Murphy announced 430 new coronavirus cases to bring the state total since the start of the pandemic to just below 201,000. The rate of transmission remained above 1 on Wednesday at 1.15. That means that each infected person is spreading the virus to just over one other person.
New Jersey has seen a slight uptick in COVID-19 cases recently -- with hundreds of cases reported most days -- but still is far below the daily case counts it experienced during the height of spread in the spring. The concentrated upticks, Murphy said, are due in large part to young people partying and not taking safety measures seriously enough.
"Keeping people vigilant after so much time on the clock is a challenge," Murphy told Fauci Thursday. More than 8,000 people tuned into the online chat, with the comment section full of questions and remarks, ranging from grateful support to dismissive and distrustful rejection.
The governor also asked the infectious disease expert what his expectations were for a second wave of COVID-19. Fauci's answer: It's coming.
"It would be almost impossible to think that you can have no cases," said Fauci, adding that it's important to continue public health measures when people start coming inside during winter.
"The baseline for the country is still about 35-45,000 new cases a day," he explained. "Some regions of the country are really gonna have a problem if they don't get that baseline above a level. So that when you get new cases, you can handle it."
When it comes to how the novel coronavirus is spreading, Fauci said there's enough data to say that aerosol transmission does occur and that people should remain alert.
"Aerosol means the droplets don’t drop immediately. They hang around for a period of time. This becomes very relevant when you’re indoors and there’s not good ventilation," he said. "Rather than getting bent out of shape on the evidence, whether it’s 5 percent, 10 percent -- aerosol transmission almost certainly occurs. Act like it’s occurring, and then do the same thing you’ve been doing otherwise."
People should still follow the same measures even when a vaccine is eventually approved by the FDA, Fauci said. He also ensured that an independent group of data and safety researchers are the only ones allowed to see data from the vaccines trial, saying that the group "is not beholden to the company, not beholden to the FDA, not beholden to the president, and not beholden to me."
The real question, Fauci says, is anybody going do an end run to try to get vaccines done more quickly than is safe? As for the timeline, the doctor says it is likely we'll have an answer in November or December.
"It is conceivable, I would say unlikely but conceivable, that it could be earlier. It could be October if there are a lot of infections in the context of the trial. If that happens in November and December, and it’s deemed to be effective and safe, there will be a period of time, at least according to what the FDA is proposing, of waiting a bit longer to make sure safety is observed beyond the time that they’ve looked at that data. At that point, there will be vaccines available at the end of the year and into the beginning of next year," he explained.
The distribution of the vaccine is nearly as complex as the vaccine trials themselves and the majority of the people may not get the vaccination until the second or third or beginning of the fourth quarter of 2021. It hasn't been determined by people who will likely the vaccine first are healthcare workers, vulnerable people, elderly and those who have underlying conditions, and so on, Fauci said.
"We've got to build the trust and outreach to the community that what we're doing is completely transparent, so that they believe us when we say that this is safe, this is effective," Fauci said.
"So when a vaccine comes, we look at it as an important tool to supplement the public health measures that we do. It will allow us to more quickly and with less stringency get back to some degree of normal. But it is not going to eliminate the need to be prudent and careful with our public health measures," he said.