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Dr. Fauci answers RJ readers’ COVID vaccination questions

Updated July 15, 2021 - 3:48 pm

Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House, in a brief interview with the Review-Journal on Thursday answered questions from readers about a mask mandate and whether a Las Vegas concert drawing tens of thousands of fans could be attended safely.

Fauci emphasized that the federal government would not be imposing new pandemic restrictions but that local governments have the authority “to make decisions based on what’s going on on the ground.”

Neither state nor Clark County officials have proposed new restrictions, with the county’s district health officer, Dr. Fermin Leguen, noting that neither a mask mandate nor restrictions on large gatherings was under discussion.

Gov. Steve Sisolak transferred oversight of pandemic mitigation measures to local officials on May 1.

“The governor is completely supportive, as the entire state is very supportive, of any decisions that will be made at the local level if those decisions are determined to be right for those areas,” Michelle White, Sisolak’s chief of staff, said during a state briefing Thursday.

Fauci, a top national authority on infectious diseases, also encouraged vaccinated individuals to consider their personal health situation and tolerance for risk, looking beyond simply whether an activity is permitted now that pandemic restrictions have been lifted.

Fauci, who has advised seven presidents including both Donald Trump and Joe Biden, also encouraged those on the fence about getting vaccinated to consider that nearly all of those dying from COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

The question-and-answer session, conducted over Zoom, comes at a time when numbers of new vaccinations are falling and new cases of COVID-19 are rising across much of the country, particularly in Nevada. More contagious strains of the coronavirus, as well as the lifting of pandemic restrictions, have been driving the growth in new cases, public health officials have said.

In Nevada, 55 percent of the population eligible for vaccination — those 12 and older — had gotten at least one dose of vaccine, according to state data. The national average is 68 percent, according to federal data.

Readers submitted their questions for Fauci through Facebook and Twitter. The questions and responses have been edited for clarity and length.

Pamela Puppel asks on Facebook: Our household has had a breakthrough case that could have been prevented with a mask mandate. Has the government simply given up because it’s too hard to deal with anti-maskers?

Fauci: Well, the federal government will not make a federally mandated mandate in the sense of it coming directly, for example, from the president. That’s not going to happen.

However, there will be local mandates — and there are — and (the federal government) left the flexibility. For example, we know there are certain cities where the level of vaccination is low and the level of infection is high, where there have been a mask mandate, even for people who are vaccinated — namely, people who are in an arena where there’s so much virus around them.

And that since even though the vaccines are highly effective, there may be a situation where you can get a breakthrough infection, even though you don’t have any symptoms and then perhaps pass it on to a child or even an elderly person who might be susceptible to a severe outcome. Bottom line answer to your question is that there likely will be local mandates; it is extremely unlikely that there will be a federal mandate, for example, from the president.

Review-Journal: Considering that Southern Nevada is a “sustained hot spot” (for COVID-19 as designated by the federal government), should our local leaders be looking at imposing a mask mandate again or imposing new restrictions?

Fauci: You know, again, that’s something that always needs to be considered. I am not, as an outside person, going to come in and tell what regions of Nevada are going to do or not do; I don’t think that would be appropriate.

The only thing I can do is to echo the broad, general recommendations of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). And part of those recommendations is to give the flexibility to the local authorities to make decisions based on what’s going on on the ground. So if the local authorities in a certain region or section of Nevada feel that it would be important and helpful, then perhaps that’s what should be done.

EmbersEnglish asks on Twitter: The governor of Nevada allowed Garth Brooks to host an indoor concert with 68,000 people in attendance. If I’m fully vaccinated, is it safe to attend an event that large?

Review-Journal: I think a lot of people, Dr. Fauci, are doing soul-searching about personal responsibility.

Fauci: Right, well, again, we must refer to the CDC general background recommendations. And that is if you are fully vaccinated, you do not need to wear a mask, either indoors or outdoors. But there is a “but” to that, and the “but” is … it leaves enough wiggle room or flexibility … if you have an unusual situation. … Let me give you an example: a person who’s vaccinated who goes to an indoor event with 60,000 people in a state where the level of infection is relatively high and the level of vaccination is relatively low. That means the chances of there being people in that 60,000-person audience who are infected and capable of transmitting it to someone else, even someone who was fully vaccinated, is more of a risk than if you were in a less crowded place in a state that had low level of infection and high level of vaccination. And that’s the judgment call that I think you’re pointing to or suggesting, that each individual is going to have to evaluate their own relative risk.

For example, if you were a person who has in your household either an elderly person or someone on cancer chemotherapy, who’s highly susceptible, you might want to not take the chance of going into a 60,000-person arena without a mask when you’re indoors. That’s just an individual judgment call about what your level of risk-taking is. Some people are very risk averse. They don’t want to take any risk. That’s different from other people who’d say, “Hey, you know, the chances of my getting into trouble are low, I’m willing to take the risk.”

Each individual person is different and would have to make up their own mind in the background of the broader recommendations of the CDC.

Review-Journal: What would be your recommendation for those who are still on the fence about getting vaccinated? Is there something new that they should know about these vaccines that would encourage more people to get vaccinated?

Fauci: Well, then I think that the recommendation would be to just look at the data: 99.5 percent of all the people who’ve died from COVID were unvaccinated; 0.5 percent of the people who’ve died from COVID were vaccinated.

That statistic alone tells you why it’s critical for everyone to get vaccinated. These vaccines are highly effective, even against the delta variant. And they are quite safe. So right now, we have the tools to prevent you from getting infected, and to prevent you from spreading the infection to someone else. That’s all the data you really need.

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter.

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