Health experts react to Dr. Fauci’s comments that he’d want to clone SC’s response to COVID-19

Updated: May. 13, 2020 at 7:24 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, commended South Carolina’s response to COVID-19 on Tuesday as a model for combatting the virus.

Fauci spoke in front of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee during the first hearing on the coronavirus outbreak. The remark came in response to S.C. Senator Tim Scott during a senate committee hearing yesterday. During a question, Scott touted South Carolina’s efforts to expand contract tracing, testing all nursing home staff and residents, and testing 2% of the population by the end of June.

Experts in the Midlands have diverging opinions when it comes to Dr. Fauci’s comments and what DHEC’s numbers mean for the outbreak in South Carolina. One epidemiologist at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health said she was not surprised by Dr. Fauci’s comments, saying that South Carolina is making positive strides as we work to reopen. While another epidemiologist said that Dr. Fauci wasn’t given all of the information by Senator Scott and his response might have been different if he had been given all the facts.

“You have put things in place that I think would optimize your capability of reopening and I was thinking as you were speaking I’d almost want to clone that and hear about that and see what you’ve been doing,” Dr. Fauci said.

Dr. Fauci’s comments related to South Carolina’s recent efforts to increase testing for vulnerable populations and increase contact tracing. However, Arnold School of Public Health Chair of Epidemiology and Biostatistics Dr. Anthony Alberg said Dr. Fauci wasn’t given the full picture.

“I think given the information that he was provided with at that time, it was all very favorable, and I think if he had known the number of cases we were seeing per day, his response would have been very different,” Dr. Alberg said.

Alberg said the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control data shows that South Carolina is not seeing a steady 14-day decline.

“If you look at South Carolina the past few days for example, we are at 140 to 160 cases per day, which is far too high to begin reopening,” Dr. Alberg said.

He said Dr. Fauci also wasn’t told about South Carolina’s testing numbers. This week’s data from the COVID-19 tracking project found that South Carolina has tested the lowest number of people per capita in the country, only ranking higher than Puerto Rico.

“The testing needs to be rolled out effectively, so the plans are in place but more extensive testing is definitely needed,” Alberg said.

While Dr. Melissa Nolan, an Arnold School of Public Health Epidemiology professor, agreed that more widespread testing is needed, she said she wasn’t surprised by Dr. Fauci’s praise of South Carolina’s response.

“Looking at the DHEC data, understanding there’s going to be peaks and valleys… because there is artifacts, so say there is one day, they are testing a lot of people who are all suspected cases where another day it’s a general followup from contract tracing. So, you want to look at the overall trend and we are seeing a decline, so I think that’s promising,” Nolan said.

She added that DHEC’s 14-day trend of the percent of positive cases among COVID-19 tests shows signs of a decline.

“That graph also tells us, too, that we are seeing an overall negative trend and decline in transmission, which is a positive thing. “So, as we think of reopening the state, that’s what we need to see and according to their website we need to see that,” Nolan said.

Both Dr. Alberg and Dr. Nolan agreed that DHEC’s steps for greater testing and contact tracing are big steps forward, saying it’s critical to be able to track and isolate potential cases in order to slow the spread of the virus. However, they said it’s difficult to know what the next few weeks will look like as DHEC gets some of these measures going, and businesses continue to reopen.

Dr. Fauci warned against states reopening too quickly on Tuesday, saying that it could lead to small spikes or outbreaks.

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