Two weeks after revealing himself to be a big Washington Nationals fan, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, did an interview with Washington Nationals’ first baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
Fauci, at times seemingly star-struck that he was speaking to Zimmerman, answered several serious questions about the coronavirus pandemic. He also spoke about his love for baseball spanning all of his life and went more into detail about how baseball and other sports could return.
“So, as we start trying to get back to normality and pulling back on some of the strict mitigation, we have a three-phase way to get back to normal,” Dr. Fauci said. “First, you get past the checkpoint, the gateway. Kind of like minor leagues before you get into the big leagues. Then you go into Phase 1, then you go into Phase 2, and then Phase 3. If we do that successfully and there are no major outbreaks, I could foresee any of a number of scenarios. One of the scenarios would be… to see it on TV. Get the players all tested so they’re negative and won’t infect each other. Let them go to a few places where you can play ball and play and watch it on TV. That’s one option. The next option is to do the same thing, but if things are really low, to restrict the number of people in the stadium. Say: When you get online to get your ticket, the way we do back on Capital Street, we stand there and you’re six feet away from the person in front of you instead of face to face when the crowd comes in. The next thing, every fifth seat or every fourth seat. That could be done. The best of all, if things really work out well, you could have a regular season. I hope there’s some form of baseball this summer even if it’s just TV.”
Here’s a full transcript of Zimmerman and Fauci’s conversation.
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “Thank you for inviting me do this. I’ve been a fan of yours since you got out of the University of Virginia.”
Ryan Zimmerman: “Thank you. I heard you talking about the Nationals and thought we should try and catch up. I know you’re crazy busy right now, but I appreciate you taking a couple of minutes to answer some questions for some people. I figure we could talk about, obviously the virus a little bit, but also some baseball and maybe a couple fun questions as well to keep people positive during these times. What do you think?”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “Sounds good to me, Ryan. Let’s do it.”
Ryan Zimmerman: “First of all, I just want to thank you for your service and what you’re doing for the country. During times like this, this is something we’ve never had to deal with and to have a strong leader like you to help inform us and give us everything we need to know from such a trusted doctor like yourself, I can’t tell you how much me and my family appreciate it and all the other Americans appreciate it. I just wanted to thank you for that, first off.
“So how are we doing at flattening the curve throughout the country, but definitely in this DC area. Obviously there’s hard-hit areas and then there are areas that haven’t seen much. But as a whole, how are we doing, and then for people who root for the Nationals, how are we doing in this area?”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “We certainly got hit with a surge of cases, Ryan, not nearly as bad as New York City, which really got hit bad. For a number of things that are different about New York than Washington that is more spread out – not as concentrated. We had a good heads up that it was coming our way where New York kind of got soccer punched because they were getting cases from Europe. The first cases that went to the west coast were actually from China, but then when China seeded Europe, especially Northern Italy, the way New York got hit was the traffic that came from Europe in general, but in particular from Italy.
“We got a secondary hit on that because of the extraordinary traffic that comes back and forth up the east coast pathway from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington. So we were right on that line. We got hurt. We have a lot of cases. We had a lot of hospitalizations. We have not been overwhelmed. I think it’s because we responded as a city really pretty well. A lot has to do with the spirit of our citizens who took very seriously the adapting of the mitigation phase, which was the physical separation, which has the good effect of keeping people physically separated hence decreasing the likelihood of infection. But also has a secondary effect of really disrupting normal life which we have to accept that until we have things under control and then very gradually, work your way back to some form of normality, which is one of the things we’re going to discuss the next few minutes.
“Our mayor, I think, she did a great job. She really was on top of it. We’ve been interacting with her. She’s been looking at the guidelines and she’s been following the guidelines. Bottom line is: we got hit bad. We’re plateauing out. It looks like we’re going to start coming down, but not yet. We’re not ready to just jump right in to normality by any means.”
Ryan Zimmerman: ”That was going to be my next question. What can you say to people that are getting anxious at home, want to get out, want to maybe go back to work, want to do things like that. Obviously, what’s happening is working. I guess the answer is to keep doing what you’re doing until it’s safe to go back out there.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “That’s a great question and it’s very very important. Obviously, as a health official, I make recommendations on what we need to do to keep this under control. I have sensitivity. I’m a member of the Washington community. I’ve lived in the city for the last 50 years. So I know and love the city. I know that the disruption of the city has a lot of consequences – not only economic, but economic issues then stem over into other things that are serious to health like elective operations you might need and things like that. So my message to my fellow Washingtonians is we’re doing a really good job of preventing this from exploding by doing the mitigation of physical separation. We need to keep it up a bit longer and when we return to normal, Ryan, we can’t just turn the light switch on and go right back. It’s going to be a gradual process, a step-wise process, and when we do get the reemergence of cases, which we will do, whenever you pull back on mitigation, you have to expect you’re going to get cases that were more than before. It’s the ability and the efficiency that you identify, contact trace, and get people out of circulation, protected with the medical care they need. If we do that well, we’ll get back to normal sooner rather than later.”
Ryan Zimmerman: “We talk about it coming back in the winter. Is there anything that you have seen or has led you to believe that COVID could be a yearly seasonal virus or do we not know enough about that”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “Well the thing that makes me very realistic about this, Ryan, is that it’s a very efficient transmitter from person-to-person. If it were kind of a wimpy virus that was a bad virus that sort of petered out by itself, it’s not going to peter itself out because it’s all over the world. We may go down and then Southern African is going to have a big outbreak. Next fall, next winter, it’s not going to be a miracle where all of a sudden it’s gone. So what we have to do is be prepared on how to respond. That likely will be that it’s going to be around for awhile. The way you get it so under control that you don’t worry about it is a) you get a vaccine and we’re working very intensively on that and b) if enough people get infected they get herd immunity that protects those who are not infected. So the virus has no place to go. But in answer to your specific question, it’s more likely than not that we will see this again and again until we really stick the nail in the coffin of this outbreak with a vaccine.”
Ryan Zimmerman: “Speaking of the herd immunity and things like that, you’re working on a lot of antibody tests and contact tracing. What can you tell us about how that’s come along and are the studies looking good, looking bad? Where do we go on the next steps of that?”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “It’s better. We started off slow and there was a lot of mishaps that we have to be realistic and humble to admit. But right now, we’ve done something that the United States of America does better than everyone else. We engaged the private sector and when the private sector came in and started making tests and getting the kind of material you need, each week that goes by we get better and better and better so that I hope — I can’t say I guarantee, Ryan, unless it’s done — I believe cautiously optimistically that by the point where we have to prepare ourselves for the fall and winter, I think we’ll be in good shape. It’s kind of like I’m talking to you as a baseball legend. It’s kind of like the Nats, in the beginning of the season, there was people only like me who loved them so much that said, ‘Okay, you’re messing up in the beginning of the season but you’re getting better, and better and better.’ Guess what, we won the World Series so there you go.”
Ryan Zimmerman: “You grew up in New York. You lived here for 50 years. Do you consider us your favorite team or the Yankees your favorite team?”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “No, there’s no doubt about that. I’m not saying that because I’m talking to you. I love the Nats. I love everybody on the Nats.
“It was interesting, I grew up in Brooklyn. What most people don’t appreciate is that in Brooklyn, during the days of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees, it was equally divided. Half of my friends in Brooklyn were Yankees fans and half of them were Brooklyn Dodgers. Nobody was a New York Giant fan except that we all loved Willie Mayes and Monte Irvin. We weren’t enemies with each other, but we were rivals. We used to spend all day long arguing was Micky Mantle still better than Duke Snider. Was Roy Campanella better than Yogi Berra? Was Pee Wee Reese better than Phil Rizzuto? So it was a lot of fun.
“But right now today, I think the character of the Washington Nationals is such that this year is historic I think. Really historic. You can’t savor it any more than having a team that came back and at the end, I’ve never been in a situation before where when we were behind, I absolutely knew we were going to win.”
Ryan Zimmerman: “You almost felt better when were losing than when we were winning.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “Absolutely. Absolutely.”
Ryan Zimmerman: “Did you get to come to any of the postseason games or the World Series games?”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “No, no. Ryan, unfortunately, I didn’t. I had stuff at work that couldn’t get me there but I watched them avidly.” [laughing]
Ryan Zimmerman: “If you need any tickets, now you’ve got a hookup. I’ll have you out next year.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “Okay! Thank you. Thank you.”
Ryan Zimmerman: “This is more of a personal question. My wife is eight months pregnant. We’ve had a lot of friends who are obviously expecting soon or just delivered. Is there any information or new updates what this done to pregnant women or newborn babies as well?”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “Well, it’s interesting in that anything we’ve seen – even though the numbers are not large – is that unlike influenza, which is really bad for pregnant women and lead to bad pregnancy outcomes, in the cases from China and some of the cases from Europe, it does not appear that this virus has a really bad effect on pregnancies unlike influenza. It has a really bad effect on the elderly and people with underlying conditions. You don’t want to make much of it, but I have not seen anything really bad regarding pregnancies.”
Ryan Zimmerman: “What do you think are the most important lessons that we as a country and we as a world have learned to date about this global pandemic issue? In 2020, we’ve never had something like this happen. A lot of people thought this was impossible to happen in 2020 with the medical advancements and the technological advancements we have. People are almost stunned that something like this could bring the world to a halt. What have we learned or what would we do next time?”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “That’s a great question particularly for me and what I’ve been doing with myself for my entire professional career. I’m an infectious disease doctor. I’m the director of the Infectious Disease Institute at NIH. And I have been for decades, talking about, if you look historically, pandemics have occurred. In the past in history, it shaped societies. Measles wiped out the Aztec civilization in South and Central America. The plague wiped out a third of Europe. The influenza pandemic of 1918 killed 50 to 100 million people. Polio devastated us before we had the vaccine. We keep saying we need to be prepared because outbreaks will continue to occur. The only problem is, Ryan, they space themselves in a way that there are no corporate memory. So when we say 10 years from now, ‘We had this terrible experience in 2020. We’ve got to keep putting billions of dollars into preparation.’ We do it but we don’t do it to the extent where you need it. I hope the lesson learned from this is that never again, we should never ever be unprepared for something as catastrophic as what we’re going through now. That’s my lesson for the day for sure.”
Ryan Zimmerman: “An important question from me and all the fans around here, do you see a scenario where we can get back to playing baseball this year, but obviously, sooner than rather than later, that we can have an effective season and a World Series in 2020.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “I think there is a pathway there, Ryan, but it depends about my answer to the question a few minutes ago. So, as we start trying to get back to normality and pulling back on some of the strict mitigation, we have a three-phase way to get back to normal. First, you get past the checkpoint, the gateway. Kind of like minor leagues before you get into the big leagues. Then you go into Phase 1, then you go into Phase 2, and then Phase 3. If we do that successfully and there are no major outbreaks, I could foresee any of a number of scenarios. One of the scenarios would be something like that I know that is not pleasing to players like yourself is to at least get the fans to see it on TV. Get the players all tested so they’re negative and won’t infect each other. Let them go to a few places where you can play ball and play and watch it on TV. That’s one option. The next option is to do the same thing, but if things are really low, to restrict the number of people in the stadium. Say: when you get online to get your ticket, the way we do back on Capital Street, we stand there and you’re six feet away from the person in front of you instead of face to face when the crowd comes in. The next thing, every fifth seat or every fourth seat. That could be done. The best of all, if things really work out well, you could have a regular season. I hope there’s some form of baseball this summer even if it’s just TV.
“I feel that strongly because I’m an avid baseball fan, but also for the country’s mental health to have the great American pastime to be seen. For two, for like players like yourself, who don’t have a lot of years left. You don’t want to lose another year. It’s for the rookies who are coming up that are waiting all their lives, since high school, to do this who are getting a season taken way from them. It’s for the people who were on a roll like many of the players on the Nats, that you want to keep going. So many reasons to want to do that.”
Ryan Zimmerman: “The mental health of the country would be great. To have any sport to watch on TV, anything as an outlet, to be entertained, that’s what we’re supposed to do. I don’t have much time left. I enjoy every day of it. Being able to do that would be so much fun.
“A couple of quick questions for you. What’s your favorite Racing President?”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “Absolutely, Teddy Roosevelt.”
Ryan Zimmerman: “If you were the manager going into Game 7 of the World Series and you had every pitcher at your disposal, who would you start?”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “You know, it’s interesting, I don’t want to insult anybody, but it’d have to be Max. Stras is great and he’s as good as anybody. There’s something about Max that you gotta love the guy. The guy’s a superstar and he runs around like he’s a kid.”
Ryan Zimmerman: “You love the game so much. You said you’ve been watching it for years and years. Who is the best player of all time?”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “Aye. Maybe because I saw him when I was a child – my father took me to Yankees Stadium – was Joe DiMaggio. Anybody that could hit for that many consecutive games — you know that better than anybody — what it takes to do that is ‘Wow.’”
Ryan Zimmerman: “The consistency of that level is impressive. So both of us have done some really cool things in our field. World Series, individual awards. You won many medical awards, saved millions and millions of lives, which is probably way cooler than baseball awards, but only one of us had Brad Pitt depict us on a screen. Where does that rank in your list of achievements?”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “Well, Ryan, it’s certainly attracted most of the attention of anything I’ve ever done. I never met the guy, but a couple things about it. He got my gravily voice from speaking too much — this isn’t my normal voice — he got my hand motions right but he has to work on his Brooklyn accent I think.” [Laughs]
Ryan Zimmerman: “There’s a bar or restaurant on U Street that has created a Fauci Pouchy. It’s adult Capri Sun. I’m going to take it you haven’t had one, but there’s a lemonade, a sweet tea, and a strawberry flavor. Which one would you pick?”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “I think lemonade for sure.”
Ryan Zimmerman: “Thank you so much. A lot of these questions we reached some people who haven’t seen you speak or haven’t heard before and we can help tell people why we’re doing this. Also, in this time, I think it’s fun to be positive and laugh a little bit. I ask some silly questions like I did because people need to remember we still need to be positive. Spending a lot of time with your family is not a bad thing and make the best out of it, stay positive and love your family and stay safe. We’ll get through this together. I just want to thank you for coming on and having some fun with me and answering some serious questions as well. Thank you so much for what you’ve been doing and we can’t thank you enough for guiding us through this.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “Thank you, Ryan. It’s a pleasure to be with you. I’ve admired you for so many years. I hope you have a couple more good ones. And I hope you do it this season.”
Ryan Zimmerman: “When we start back up, we’ll have to have you out and come in the clubhouse and talk to the guys. We’d love to have you.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “I’d love to do it.”
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.