Fauci predicts that people will be able to go back to singing in church by mid-fall, when an 'overwhelming proportion' of the US has been vaccinated

Fauci predicts that people will be able to go back to singing in church by mid-fall, when an 'overwhelming proportion' of the US has been vaccinated
Sen.-elect Raphael Warnock, pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted Monday that church services by mid-fall should resemble pre-coronavirus worship.
  • That projection depends on at least 70% to 85% of the population getting vaccinated.
  • Churches have been the sites of super-spreader events, since the virus spreads easily indoors when people are speaking loudly or singing in close quarters.

Dr. Anthony Fauci predicts church services - with hugging, praising, and music-making - will be able to resume safely in mid-fall if the US vaccinates people "appropriately, effectively, and efficiently."

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, made the projection Monday during the Choose Healthy Life Black Clergy Conclave, an online convening of more than 100 Black clergy, leading public-health officials, and corporate and scientific leaders who are working to boost COVID-19 testing and other resources in the Black community. It was led by the Revs. Al Sharpton and Calvin Butts.

When Fauci took the virtual stage, he answered questions from Black clergy around the country. The question about church services came from the Rev. John Vaughn, who was representing Sen.-elect Raphael Warnock, who is a pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
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"When can we expect to go back to church, when we'll be able to sing, we'll be able to do wind instruments?" he asked.

Fauci said the timeline largely depended on how quickly the US could get "the overwhelming proportion of our population," meaning at least 70% to 85%, vaccinated.

Fauci predicts that people will be able to go back to singing in church by mid-fall, when an 'overwhelming proportion' of the US has been vaccinated
Dr. Anthony Fauci.Reuters, Al Drago/AFP via Getty Images
Read more: What's coming next for COVID-19 vaccines? Here's the latest on 11 leading programs.
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It's particularly important that people who are most vulnerable, including Black Americans, get the vaccine. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black Americans are dying at nearly three times the rate of white, non-Hispanic people and being hospitalized at nearly four times the rate.

Working to overcome a history of racial discrimination and mistreatment

But getting the vaccine first requires the Black community to trust that it's safe and effective, Fauci and other speakers said. Black adults have shown more hesitancy about COVID-19 vaccines than white or Hispanic people. Polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation in early December found that about 35% of Black people said they probably or definitely wouldn't get a COVID-19 shot, compared with about a quarter of people who identified as Hispanic or as white.
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Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, an immunologist who is the president and CEO of Meharry Medical College, said earlier in the event that hesitancy among Black Americans stemmed from a long history of racial discrimination and mistreatment by the US healthcare system.

As a Black scientist who's been involved in the vaccine development, he said the coronavirus vaccine was "nothing like Tuskegee."

He was referring to the Tuskegee experiment, in which US scientists monitored about 400 Black men with syphilis but did not treat them for the disease or even tell them they had it. The study lasted about four decades, according to a timeline from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ending in 1972.
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"People of color must take the vaccine," Hildreth said, "because otherwise we're putting our lives and our communities at risk."

Biden is promising to speed up the US vaccine rollout

Once the vast majority of the population is vaccinated, Fauci continued, "the level of virus in the community will be at such a low level that we will be able to really approach a degree of normality that's similar, maybe not identical, but similar to where we were before all of this."

He said that if the US pursued its vaccination campaign well, then "in the mid-fall, we'll be able to get back to that type of worship which we all are longing for right now."
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So far, though, the US vaccine rollout has gone much more slowly than top Trump administration officials promised. The rollout has been hamstrung by a lack of federal assistance and limited funding, as Insider's Hilary Brueck reported.

President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to speed up the vaccine effort, setting a goal of giving 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office. He's called for increased funding and said he'll order the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help give the immunizations.

Read more: Why America's vaccine rollout was a total disaster - and what it means for the next few months
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Church services and group singing activities are super-spreader events

In-person church services are the kind of event that presents a particularly high risk for spreading the coronavirus.

That's because people are close to others indoors for an extended period of time. The coronavirus typically spreads via respiratory droplets. While 6 feet has been the standard distance experts have advised people keep from others to reduce one's chance of infection, actions such as singing or even loudly talking could allow the virus to travel farther, some research suggests. And the especially small droplets known as aerosols can float, heightening one's risk indoors with poor ventilation. In fact, singing and church services have contributed to super-spreader events, in which an infected person is able to pass the disease to far more people than the average of two.
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In March, 60 members of a choir in Washington held a rehearsal. Three weeks later, 45 members were found to have COVID-19, three were hospitalized, and two died.

In December, a holiday musical event at a church in North Carolina - where many people didn't wear masks, including shoulder-to-shoulder choir singers - was linked to 75 people testing positive for the coronavirus.

"If you're outdoors in a place that doesn't have a lot of COVID? That's almost no risk," former CDC Director Tom Frieden, the president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, said earlier in Monday's program. "If you're indoors for a long time with a lot of people who are shouting and singing and not wearing masks, that's the highest risk."
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