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Dr. Fauci Says This Shocked Him Most About COVID

Fauci was surprised to deal “with a virus where one-third to 40% of the people never get any symptoms.”
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the President and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke at the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Culture and the Cura Foundation's Fifth International Vatican Conference during a Special Opening Conversation with CNN's Sanjay Gupta, MD. The topic? Faith and medicine, but mainly: What has surprised Dr. Fauci the most about COVID-19? Read on for 5 key takeaways—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Signs You Have Long COVID and Don't Know It.


Dr. Fauci Said This One Thing Remains a Mystery About COVID-19

Chemist Adjusts Samples in a Petri Dish with Pincers and then Examines Them Under Microscope

Is there still a lot to learn about COVID-19? "Oh, I think that there's a substantial amount, not only about the virus, what the virus can do," said Dr. Fauci, "but the pathogenesis of the disease, the thing that… If I have the opportunity sometime to be able to slow down and get in the lab to look at things I want to find out, how could it possibly be that the same virus that's killed 570,000 people in this country is a virus in which more than half the people don't ever get any symptoms? I mean, you could say, well, they're young, they're healthy, but that's not an adequate explanation. There's something there, something that we don't know about, about the pathogenesis."


Dr. Fauci Said the Variants Remain an Unknown and COVID a "Wily Opponent"

Two professional doctors in blue medical uniform standing in front of each other in hospital corridor and looking thoughtful

"The other thing that we don't know about is the ability—how extensive is the ability of this virus, if you don't really suppress it completely, to develop new variants?" said Dr. Fauci. "And every single week, Sanjay, that goes by, we get hit with another challenge. First it was the 614, the orig—no, first it was the Wuhan strain. Then we said, oh, wait a minute. We have a 614 now. Okay. So that's one variant. And then all of a sudden, the 351 in South Africa, and then the 117 in England, and now the 617 in India. It's like, it's a wily opponent. It's a wily opponent."

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Dr. Fauci Said You Have to Allow Yourself to Be Surprised By COVID-19

Antibodies attacking SARS-CoV-2 virus

"You must be flexible," said Dr. Fauci. "I've said this so many times, flexible, open-minded, and humble to know that even though you have 40 years of experience, that when you're dealing with something that is really in the realm of the unknown, you've got to expect the unexpected. I mean, that's some of the dictums that I go by, always expect the unexpected. Particularly when you're dealing with a microorganism, which in many respects from an evolutionary standpoint, has the capability to adapt itself to always survive. And organisms are not static things. And that's the reason why we're seeing the evolution of these variants. If it was a static situation, you would know exactly what it was right from the beginning, but it continues to evolve."


Dr. Fauci Said This Has Been the Most Shocking Thing About COVID-19 

Women with face masks down

"I think one of the real good examples of" COVID keeping us on our toes is "the dictum of infectious diseases forever, were that respiratory-borne viruses tend to have a very small amount of transmission from an asymptomatic person. The thing that drives respiratory illnesses are fundamentally symptomatic people. And we know that influenza and other types of infections have a small fraction of maybe 24 hours before a person gets symptomatic, that they can transmit it. We never would have imagined, and it was unique, that we were dealing with a virus where one-third to 40% of the people never get any symptoms. And 50 to 60% of the people who will get infected, get infected from someone with no symptoms. That was completely unprecedented. Totally. And that's the reason why when scientists were saying, it's not really a major driver of asymptomatic infection. And now you find out that it is at least half of the infections are transmitted."

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Dr. Fauci Said Finding Out the Virus was Transmitted Asymptomatically Was a Game Changer

Woman getting COVID-19 vaccine shot.

"The reason why that's important, it impacts everything," he said. "A, it impacts the ability to do identification isolation contact tracing. It impacts the profound need to wear masks. When you say, well, I don't worry. If I don't feel sick, why should I wear a mask? Now we know that you could be spreading the virus. So that's what I mean by using your experience, using your knowledge, but always, always keep an open mind that you're going to find out data they're going to have you change some of the things that may have been foundations of what you've done for years." As for yourself: get vaccinated when it becomes available to you, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Alek Korab
Alek Korab is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the ETNT Health channel on Eat This, Not That! Read more about Alek