Speaking via videoconference with the California State University chancellor and campus presidents, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist offered a message of hope Friday that while the state is being ravaged by a COVID-19 surge, relief is in sight and college students will emerge stronger from the pandemic.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Chancellor Timothy White and CSU presidents that California is in a “bittersweet” situation due to the massive COVID-19 surge it is seeing.

“The bitter part of it is what you all in California are really experiencing, because if you look at the map of the country, right now, today, California is being hit as hard as any state in the union, to the point where you’re at the verge of in some sections of the state to have your health-care system overrun, running out of beds,” Fauci said. “That is the reason why you really had to resort to rather dramatic shutdown procedures.

“That’s the bitter part. The sweet part and the light at the end of the tunnel is that as these weeks and months go by and we hang in there, things will get better and better as we implement a vaccine over the coming months that will ultimately turn around and put this outbreak behind us,” he said. “But it is going to be a challenging few months.”

He said the state and country are at a “crossroads,” in which “we’re being challenged in an extraordinary way at the same time that there is hope that we’re going to be able to get out of this.”

Fauci tried to encourage CSU students to persevere through the difficulty of continuing their education through “such unusual trying times.”

“I have faith, you know, abiding faith that our young people in our country and your students at all of the Cal State University campuses can reach down, deep down, and pull out the best of themselves to realize that they are unique because they are living through something that is quite historic,” he said. “And if they come out of this — which they will, I have real faith in our young people — they will come with renewed strength that they could get through something that is historic in proportion that generations have not had the opportunity to experience.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel, and they’ve got to realize that they’ve got to hang in there, and hang in there toggether. We are all in this together. They need to realize when they look around at the person next to them and they look around at the campus — up in the north by Humboldt or down south by San Diego State — we’re all in it together. And if they realize that, we can pull together and get through it. And when this is all over — and it will end — the students have to realize this will end and we will get back to normality. We’ll have learned lessons but we will get back to normality. They could look back on this and say, `You know, I’ve been through it and I got through it.’ And I think at the end of it you’re going to have a whole lot of 486,000 stronger students if you do that.”

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