COVID-19 is a public health official’s “worst nightmare,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease doctor, said Thursday.

“What is the worst nightmare that a public health official could have and what are the things that we fear the most?” Fauci said. “The answer is consistent among me and my colleagues: The emergence of a respiratory illness that is highly transmissible it its efficiency of going from person to person that has a significant degree of morbidity and mortality.”

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“Unfortunately for our planet, that’s exactly where we are right now, with this now historic COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke at a press briefing ahead of the COVID-19 Conference at the AIDS 2020 Virtual Meeting. He, along with other experts, will be making larger presentations about the illness on Friday.

The pandemic is “completely unique in what we’ve experienced,” Fauci said, citing the disease’s “protean manifestations.”

“We’ve never seen a virus” that affects people in such variable ways, from being asymptomatic, to exhibiting mild to more lingering symptoms, to requiring hospitalization and possibly intubation, and to succumbing to the disease.

Fauci highlighted the draconian measures the world has taken to combat the disease, adding that public health measures have had various levels of success in the 200 countries affected by the virus.

“We in the U.S. are having a particularly difficult problem,” with a high number of cases and deaths, he said.

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