(CBS News) - After seven months of wearing masks, washing their hands, and staying at least six feet away from others in public, some people are feeling a new symptom of the coronavirus: impatience.
In an interview with CBS News chief medical correspondent and 60 Minutes contributor Dr. Jon LaPook, Dr. Anthony Fauci looked ahead to how the virus may impact Americans' lives in the year to come. Having a coronavirus vaccine, Fauci said, will not mean that other precautions will automatically end.
The impact of a vaccine, he said, would depend on both its efficacy and the proportion of people who take it. Fauci cautions that, even if scientists release a vaccine by the beginning of next year, people will likely still need to carry out public health precautions into next fall and winter — including wearing a mask.
“I think we’ll be fine,” Fauci said. “But it’s not going to be, I think, well into and towards the end of next year.”
Fauci has been criticized for comments he made to 60 Minutes in March, in which he downplayed the need for people to wear a mask in public. In this week’s interview, he told LaPook that by April, new information and an improving supply of masks had changed his mind, and in turn, his guidance to the nation.
“Let’s see if we could put this to rest once and for all,” Fauci said this week. “It became clear that cloth covering things like this here, and not necessarily a surgical mask or an N95, cloth coverings, work. Now there’s no longer a shortage of masks. Number two, meta-analysis studies show that, contrary to what we thought, masks really do work in preventing infection.”
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been an outspoken member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. He told LaPook that, in the next year, the nation must improve its testing approach by lowering costs and increasing access, both for public health and for peoples' peace of mind. He said he envisions a day in which tests are available at a pharmacy for $2 apiece.
“This is the United States of America, the technologically most advanced country in the world,” he said. “We can make a test with a piece of paper that you stick into a little cassette for $1 that does it in five minutes that’s 98% sensitive. You can’t tell me that we can’t do that.”
When it comes to treating COVID-19, Fauci credits his colleagues at the National Institutes of Health for decades of research that have positioned the nation to make progress in this pandemic.
“There are tons of other people you’ve never heard of who are so important,” LaPook said. “People like Dr. Barney Graham, Dr. John Mascola, and so many others who for decades have been doing research that’s allowed the vaccine development, that’s allowed the therapeutics like monoclonal antibodies.”
Looking ahead at the pandemic in the months to come, LaPook offered his own advice — do not forget about preventive medicine. Routine tests and screenings — such as mammograms, colonoscopies, Pap smears, and blood pressure checks — can spot an illness before it worsens. Health care providers are taking extra precautions to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, LaPook said, so people should maintain their schedule for these screenings and not be afraid to go to their doctor’s office.
He also advised that people take their own precautions when seeing their doctor, including wearing a mask and staying home if they had recently been exposed to COVID-19.
“It’s not going to be going totally back to normal right now,” LaPook said. “But if we want to head towards normal, we’ve got to follow the public health advice. It’s as simple as that.”