Anthony Fauci (left) and Mike PencePhoto: YouTube screenshot/White House
America’s most trusted doctor during the coronavirus pandemic discussed the “relative risk” of hooking up right now.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the most prominent members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and an expert on infectious diseases, did a wide-ranging interview with Vanity Fair‘s Peter Hamby about what people should be doing to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus, covering travel, festivals, 5G… and online hook-ups.
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Hamby asked about what people should be doing if “they’re a little stir crazy.”
“If you’re swiping on a dating app like Tinder, or Bumble, or Grindr, and you match with someone that you think is hot, and you’re just kind of like, ‘Maybe it’s fine if this one stranger comes over,’” he asked. “What do you say to that person?”
Fauci, who cut his teeth when it comes to global pandemics during the HIV epidemic, brought up “relative risk,” or how exposure to something can increase the probability of a certain outcome compared to a certain baseline.
The concept has been key to fighting HIV transmission since many sex acts present a risk of infection, but the relative risk of certain acts is greater than others and some level of risk might be acceptable for one person but not for another. Safer sex education, for example, usually focuses on information about relative risk, instead of telling people to never have sex ever again.
Fauci said that “if you really feel that you don’t want to have any part of this virus,” then you’ll follow all the guidelines – “maintain six feet away, wear a mask,” etc.
“If you’re willing to take a risk — and you know, everybody has their own tolerance for risks — you could figure out if you want to meet somebody,” he explained.
“And it depends on the level of the interaction that you want to have. If you’re looking for a friend, sit in a room and put a mask on, and you know, chat a bit. If you want to go a little bit more intimate, well, then that’s your choice regarding a risk.”
Harking back to common advice given for reducing HIV transmission, Fauci said, “The one thing you don’t want to do is make sure the person is feeling well.”
That is, if you’re going to hook up with someone from an app or meet up with a friend, asking the other person if they’re sick won’t help you assess risk much at all, partly because of asymptomatic cases. That is, people who get coronavirus without showing symptoms can still spread the disease.
“If everybody transmitted would only transmit when they’re sick, that would be much easier,” Fauci said. “But what we’re seeing, which becomes really problematic, is that there’s a considerable amount of transmission from an asymptomatic person. And we’ve got well-documented now, you know, that situation on the nuclear carrier, the Roosevelt, USS Roosevelt, where hundreds of sailors have gotten infected from people that were not sick. That’s tough.”
While one-on-one interactions do present some risk of transmitting the virus, public health officials are more focused on large gatherings of people – like concerts, church services, cruises – and places where people interact with each other and touch the same objects.
Large gatherings make Fauci “really nervous because outbreaks and clusters have been the things that have fueled outbreaks in different cities throughout the world.”
“One of the real tragic things was that in Wuhan, the city in which this virus emerged, at a time when it was clear that there was viral transmission in the community, the Chinese held a 40,000-person massive block party celebrating some Chinese festival,” he explained. “That just exploded it. And New Orleans had the Mardi Gras. Look what happened after the Mardi Gras.”