What a difference a day makes.
It’s been a turbulent week for President Donald Trump’s relationship with the nation’s top infectious-disease specialist. With a rise in COVID-19 cases in most U.S. states, particularly Texas, Arizona, California and Florida, and reversals by some of their plans to reopen, the White House appears to have acknowledged that there is no immediate split in the relationship between Trump and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for three decades and a leading expert on pandemics in the U.S. for four decades.
“ ‘You can physically separate people to the point of not allowing the virus to transmit, and the only way to do that is by draconian means.’ ”
In an interview with Stanford Medicine’s Dean Lloyd Minor, the doctor said there is a way to flatten the curve of new cases. “We know that we can do that if we shut down. The Europeans have done it. People in Asia have done it. We did not shut down entirely.” Contrary to the president’s insistence that it’s time to get the country’s economy up and running again, Fauci paints a darker picture: “It’s happened — your worst nightmare, the perfect storm. We haven’t even begun to see the end of it yet. It’s still globally threatening.”
Fauci, meanwhile, told the Financial Times that he has not briefed the president since June 2. After the doctor criticized the U.S. response to the pandemic and Trump criticized the doctor, Fauci on Monday made a low-key visit to the White House to meet with Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff. It came a day after the administration released a list to the Washington Post that contained criticisms of the doctor, and signaled a further souring of relations between Fauci and the Trump administration.
That list included comments made by Fauci in the early days of the pandemic about how he was not immediately worried about asymptomatic spreading and how Americans didn’t need to wear masks. It was described by some reporters as “opposition research,” a description that the White House has flatly denied. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention originally told the public not to wear masks, but along with the Trump administration, reversed that policy in April.
But the backlash to that “list” was swift. On Tuesday, Thomas File, Jr., president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, released a statement on behalf of his colleagues throwing their support behind Fauci. “The only way out of this pandemic is by following the science, and developing evidence-based prevention practices and treatment protocols as new scientifically rigorous data become available. Knowledge changes over time. That is to be expected. If we have any hope of ending this crisis, all of America must support public health experts, including Dr. Fauci, and stand with science.”
“ ‘If we have any hope of ending this crisis, all of America must support public health experts, including Dr. Fauci, and stand with science.’ ”
On Sunday, Adm. Brett Giroir, the testing coordinator at the Department of Health and Human Services, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Fauci was not correct in his advice to states to slow down the opening of businesses: “I respect Dr. Fauci a lot, but Dr. Fauci is not 100% right, and he also doesn’t necessarily, he admits that, have the whole national interest in mind. He looks at it from a very narrow public-health point of view,” Giroir said.
That same day, Trump doubled down on his own efforts to discredit Fauci. He retweeted this over the weekend: “The most outrageous lies are the ones about Covid 19. Everyone is lying. The CDC, Media, Democrats, our Doctors, not all but most that we are told to trust. I think it’s all about the election and keeping the economy from coming back, which is about the election. I’m sick of it.” The president also retweeted this: “So based on Dr. Fauci and the Democrats, I will need an ID card to go shopping but not to vote?”
“When you compare us to other countries, I don’t think you can say we’re doing great. I mean, we’re just not,” Fauci told the FiveThirtyEight podcast last week, which appears to have been taken by the White House as a direct rebuke of the president. Most voters said they approved of Fauci, although the majority of Republicans said so by a whisker, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll of 1,337 registered voters from June 17 to June 22. Overall, 67% of voters said they approved of the doctor, including 81% of Democrat, 51% of Republicans and 67% of Independents.
Last week, Trump also doubled down on his criticism of Fauci’s response to the pandemic. “Dr. Fauci’s a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes,” he said on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. “Like you don’t have to ban them coming in from very infected China. I did it anyway and we saved hundreds of thousands of lives.” He added, “They’ve been wrong about a lot things, including face masks,” he added. “Maybe they’re wrong, maybe not, but a lot of them said don’t wear a mask, don’t wear a mask. Now they are saying wear a mask. So a lot of mistakes were made — a lot of mistakes.”
On April 3, the administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed their policies on masks, and said everyone — not just medical workers, as they previously said — should wear face coverings. That same day, Trump said his administration recommended wearing cloth face coverings. However, he said he wouldn’t wear a mask himself. “You don’t have to do it. I’m choosing not to do it.” In a rare break with his tradition of eschewing any face covering, he wore one last weekend while visiting Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Fauci recently said that the U.S. government had not been doing well with contact tracing, the process of tracing people who have been in contact with someone identified to have the virus. “I don’t think we’re doing very well, for a number of reasons, and not all of which is the fault of the system,” he said in an interview last month with CNN T, +1.26%. On April 13, when reporters questioned Fauci about possible tension between him and the administration, Fauci said he made recommendations to Trump to restrict travel. “The travel was another recommendation, when we went in and said, ‘We probably should be doing that,’” Fauci said. “And the answer was yes.”
“ ‘We have been very fortunate to have Dr. Fauci at the helm directing infectious diseases research at National Institutes of Health for so many years.’ ”
On Monday, CNN reporter Jim Acosta asked White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany: “Why is the White House trashing Dr. Fauci? The president has gone off on anonymous sources in the past. Why not have the guts to trash Dr. Fauci with your own names?” McEnany said suggestions that there was opposition research on Fauci “couldn’t be further from the truth.” Acosta pointed out that, in April, Trump floated the idea of using ultraviolet light inside the human body or a disinfectant by “injection” as a treatment for coronavirus.
Indeed, Trump told a press conference: “I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that,” he said. “So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light — and I think you said that that hasn’t been checked, but you’re going to test it. And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body.”
The next day, Trump said he was not being serious. His original comments drew widespread criticism from health professionals and Reckitt Benckiser RBGPF, -1.52%, which makes Lysol and Dettol. “I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen. When asked by a reporter whether Trump was suggesting disinfectant as an injection, the president replied, “No. Of course not…It was said sarcastically. It was put in the form of a question to a group of extraordinary hostile people. Namely, the fake news media.”
Also this week, Judith Feinberg, chair of the HIV Medicine Association, added in a separate statement: “We have been very fortunate to have Dr. Fauci at the helm directing infectious diseases research at National Institutes of Health for so many years. His leadership and support of a rigorous scientific process has been critical to transforming HIV from a death sentence to a chronic condition, saving millions of lives worldwide. His voice and expertise need to be amplified not silenced if we are going to get control of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fauci’s history with the HIV/AIDS epidemic, particularly in the early days, and his relationship with activists is more complex than that. “They blocked the doors and hallways chanting, ‘Hey, Hey, FDA, How Many People Have You Killed Today’ and ‘Fauci, You Are Killing Us.’ After their action they launched a media tour demanding a shortened drug approval process and illustrating that they all knew every detail of the complex FDA process,” according to journalist Ann Montague, who revisited that chapter in Fauci’s career. “Tensions came to a head in 1990 when activists were not given a seat at the table where the discussions were taking place regarding the AIDS clinical trials.”
“There was a massive demonstration outside Fauci’s office with activists wearing Grim Reaper masks and carrying large coffins. There were 60 arrests. Recently, in an interview Dr. Fauci recalled being smoke bombed. Eventually Dr. Fauci ended up loosening HIV drug clinical trial requirements so that more patients could try new compounds,” Montague wrote in Socialist Action, adding, “Act Up members were included in writing procedural standards, and they were added to expanded seats on the planning committee of the AIDS Clinical Trial Group. This was a significant win.” (Fauci was not immediately available for comment on his time dealing with the AIDS pandemic.)
Ann Northrop, a lesbian AIDS activist at that time, told Montague that Fauci’s relationship with AIDS activists at the time evolved: “I would say at the beginning of his encounter with us, he was a pretty typical bureaucrat, making excuses for the slow pace of drug investigation and approval. I will give him credit for turning into someone who listened more to the activist point of view and eventually became more of an ally. There also is agreement that he was never homophobic like the majority of the medical establishment at this time.” (President Ronald Reagan famously never mentioned AIDS until 1987, six years after the first cases of “gay cancer” were reported.)
In 2020, Fauci once again appears out of the step with the current administration’s approach. COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, had infected at least 13.6 million people globally and 3.5 million in the U.S. as of Thursday evening. It had killed 586,423 people worldwide and 138,072 in the U.S. Fauci also said Wednesday that easing social-distancing requirements and reopening the economy too soon could ultimately cost even more lives. He said the government must look to the medical community for advice on how to bring an end to the first wave of the virus in the U.S.
“We have such extraordinary talent in our academic medical centers,” Fauci told Stanford Medicine’s Dean Lloyd Minor, “we really need to begin to leverage them more.”
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