Fauci had several TV hits slated for this week, but then he went on Facebook Live w/ @SenDougJones and disputed "Trump's assertions that a lower death rate showed the country's progress against the pandemic." His TV bookings were cancelled, source says 👇🏼 https://t.co/duepvmcuG9
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) July 11, 2020
Not for the first time, I really wish the Financial Times had a weekend-only subscription. They’ve made this article free to read, and you should:
I hear Anthony Fauci before I see him. Out of view of our video call, he asks his tech assistant: “Have you wiped down the table?” The assistant, who has already sprayed down the 79-year-old’s chair, hurries to disinfect the desk. The top adviser on the White House’s coronavirus task force cannot afford to fall ill.
Of all the unenviable jobs in this pandemic, Dr Fauci may have the trickiest. He is a leading public health scientist in a world growing suspicious of expertise; an affable self-described humanist in a society where soundbites get more play than sound advice. After 36 years as director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, he is facing a challenge that eclipses even the epidemics he has previously battled — Aids and Sars.
Now, Fauci reports to his sixth president: Donald Trump. The president flouts his advice — refusing to wear a mask and holding rallies — and, Fauci tells me, hasn’t even met him for more than a month. Trump appears to me to be preoccupied with polls and economic data, rather than the soaring case counts in the country hardest hit by Covid-19 in terms of confirmed cases and deaths…
“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say we have a serious ongoing problem, right now, as we speak,” Fauci says, in an accent tinged by his native Brooklyn. He warned Congress late last month that the number of new cases could rise to 100,000 a day. “What worries me is the slope of the curve,” he explains, using his fingers to draw a chart in the air. “It still looks like it’s exponential.”
The country will not respond well to locking down again, he fears. He thinks health officials need to get the message across to young people in particular that they are not “in a vacuum”, where their disease affects only themselves.
The spreading distrust of experts makes everything harder. “That is a real problem. We can’t run away from it,” he says. Fauci may have developed a fan base that is snapping up Fauci T-shirts, mugs and bobblehead dolls — but he has also been disparaged and even received death threats from people who believe coronavirus is a con.
The US has always valued individual rights, he says, but warns that this could make it hard to tackle the pandemic, even when we have a vaccine. “Our forefathers . . . had the guts to come by boat from Europe and wherever else. That’s the general spirit: you don’t always trust authority,” he says. Now it has been taken to an “extreme”, with a movement against science and authority helping to form “the foundation for the anti-vaccine movement, that we don’t trust what the government is telling us. That is very, very problematic right now.”
Fauci last saw Trump in person at the White House on June 2 — and says he has not briefed the president for at least two months. He tells me this in a matter-of-fact tone, but I suspect that his indifference is feigned. While Trump holds potential superspreader events, Fauci meets with the task force run by the vice-president.
He says he is “sure” that his messages are passed along — but Trump is evidently not listening. On July 4, the president declared that 99 per cent of Covid-19 cases were “harmless”. Stephen Hahn, the US Food and Drug Administration commissioner, refused to tell CNN whether this was right or wrong. So I try Fauci: “Is Trump wrong?”
He chuckles, deflecting by calling it the “famous question”. Fauci tries to account for it as an accidental error, rather than part of a pattern of the president playing down the pandemic. “I’m trying to figure out where the president got that number. What I think happened is that someone told him that the general mortality is about 1 per cent. And he interpreted, therefore, that 99 per cent is not a problem, when that’s obviously not the case,” he says.
In fact, Fauci believes some of the “extreme confusion” about the virus is because it affects people so differently, from the asymptomatic to patients on ventilators. “I have never seen a virus or any pathogen that has such a broad range of manifestations,” he says. “Even if it doesn’t kill you, even if it doesn’t put you in the hospital, it can make you seriously ill.”…
As he heads off to an afternoon coronavirus task force briefing where he expects an “intense” discussion about state surges, he imparts a message that is far from sugar-coated. He wants me to know that this pandemic really is “the big one”. Covid-19 has the worst elements of previous epidemics combined. “You have a random virus jump species from an animal to a human that is spectacularly efficient in spreading from human to human, and has a high degree, relatively speaking, of morbidity and mortality,” he says. “We are living in the perfect storm right now.”
As if their views on epidemiology are somehow equal. https://t.co/rAnkhfpAdb
— Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) July 11, 2020