If Dr Anthony Fauci says it, Americans would be smart to listen. As the coronavirus has upended daily life across the globe, Fauci, the US director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has become the trusted voice in the United States in separating fact and fiction.
The fear and confusion of outbreaks are not new to Fauci, who, in more than 30 years has handled HIV, SARS, MERS, Ebola and even the nation’s 2001 experience with bioterrorism – the anthrax attacks.
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Fauci’s political bosses – from Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump – have let him do the explaining because he is frank and understandable, translating complex medical information into everyday language while neither exaggerating nor downplaying.
At 79, the government’s top infectious disease expert is by age in the demographic group at high-risk for contracting COVID-19. But he is working round the clock and getting only a few hours of sleep. He is a little hoarse from all the talking about coronavirus, and he is spending hours speaking to news and entertainment personalities on television and the internet.
Trump has seen approval ratings rise as his administration takes stronger action against the pandemic, though criticism continues [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]
Yet, his vigour belies his age, and he credits it to exercise, including running.
Fauci became the Trump administration’s go-to representative because US citizens trust him, according to polls. The top scientist has bluntly said that the coronavirus pandemic will get worse in the US and criticised the federal government on certain aspects of its response.
Fauci was born in Brooklyn, New York, on Christmas Eve, 1940, into an Italian-American family. President George W Bush, who, in 2008, awarded Fauci the Presidential Medal of Freedom, noted that even as a boy he showed an independent streak: In a neighbourhood full of Brooklyn Dodgers fans, Fauci rooted for the Yankees.
Fauci became head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in 1984, when the nation was in the throes of the AIDS crisis. He has recalled the huge frustration of caring for dying patients in the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) hospital with nothing to offer.
After hours, he would chat with then-Surgeon General C Everett Koop about what scientists were learning about AIDS, influencing Koop’s famous 1986 report educating Americans about the disease.
NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci speaks during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House [File: Al Drago/Reuters]
In 1990, when AIDS activists swarmed the NIH to protest what they saw as government indifference, Fauci brought them to the table. Fast forward, and he helped to shape Trump’s initiative to end HIV in the US.
Although he’s spent his career in government, Fauci does not seem to have lost the human touch – and that may be part of the key to his success as a communicator.
During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, many Americans panicked when a US nurse was infected by a patient she was caring for, a traveller from West Africa. Ebola can cause deadly bleeding.
Fauci confronted those fears by setting a personal example. When the NIH hospital released that nurse, not only did he say she was not contagious, he gave her a hug before TV cameras to prove he was not worried.
Fast-forward six years, and Fauci is again at the forefront of scientists’ efforts to dispel misinformation and explain the coronavirus pandemic, even when it means being at odds with the president.
Fauci uses a metaphor from one of the fastest-moving sports to describe his strategy on the outbreak. “You skate not to where the puck is, but to where the puck is going to be,” he told a House committee.
He has simultaneously advocated containment to try to keep the virus from spreading, mitigation to check its damage once it gets loose in a community, immediate efforts to increase testing, and short-term and long-term science to develop treatments and vaccines. He is hoping a dynamic response will put the nation where the puck ends up going.
“It’s unpredictable,” he said. “Testing now is not going to tell you how many cases you’re going to have. What will tell you … will be how you respond to it with containment and mitigation.”
Over the weekend, Fauci told CNN that the pandemic could ultimately kill between 100,000 and 200,000 people in the US should mitigation be unsuccessful.
Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Vice President Mike Pence listen as US President Donald Trump addresses the coronavirus taskforce daily briefing at the White House [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]
Serving a president who initially dismissed coronavirus by comparing it to seasonal flu, Fauci has been even-handed in public. He has won the respect of Democratic and Republican legislators, along with Trump administration officials.
Almost in a matter-of-fact fashion, Fauci acknowledged to Congress earlier this month that the government system was not designed for mass testing of potential infections. “It is a failing, let’s admit it,” he told legislators.
When asked about Trump’s comments on an anti-malaria drug that he said could be a “game-changer” in the race to find a coronavirus treatment, Fauci, standing next to the president, said there was not scientific data to support the use of the drug.
“The answer is, ‘no’,”‘ Fauci told a reporter when asked if he found the drug promising.
“The evidence you’re talking about … is anecdotal evidence,” he added.
“I served six presidents and I have never done anything other than tell the exact scientific evidence and made policy recommendations based on the science and the evidence,” he had previously told a House committee earlier this month.
NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci speaks as US President Donald Trump listens during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House [File: Al Drago/Reuters]
Fauci’s candour has not stopped Trump from praising him. “Tony has been doing a tremendous job working long, long hours,” earlier this month, as rumours swirled that there was a division between Fauci and the White House.
For Fauci’s part, he has said he that while the pair disagree on some things, there is no division.
“The president has listened to what I have said and what the other people on the taskforce have said. When I have made recommendations he has taken them,” Fauci told the Morning on the Mall podcast last week.
“The idea of just pitting one against the other is just not helpful,” he added. “We have a much bigger problem here than trying to point out differences.”
Anthony Fauci: No reason why we shouldn’t be able to vote in person
Dr. Anthony Fauci said it should be safe for people to vote in person as long as they take sufficient precautions. “I think if carefully done according to the guidelines, there’s no reason that I can see why that not be the case,” Dr. Fauci told National Geographic in an interview that aired Thursday. He…
Dr. Anthony Fauci said it should be safe for people to vote in person as long as they take sufficient precautions.
“I think if carefully done according to the guidelines, there’s no reason that I can see why that not be the case,” Dr. Fauci told National Geographic in an interview that aired Thursday.
He pointed out that grocery stores have marks intended to keep people at least six feet apart.
“You can do that,” said Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “If you go and wear a mask, if you observe the physical distancing and don’t have a crowded situation, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to do that.”
He said people who are at higher risk or don’t want to take the chance can have a vote-by-mail option.
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to vote, in person or otherwise,” he said.
Dr. Fauci’s comments came as Democrats and President Trump are locked in a stalemate over funding for the U.S. Postal Service.
Democrats had pushed for $25 billion for the post office and $3.5 billion for vote-by-mail efforts, though it appeared that negotiators had settled on $10 billion for USPS in the most recent round of negotiations.
Democrats, who have effusively praised Dr. Fauci throughout the course of the pandemic, say the additional money is necessary so people don’t have to risk their health by going to the polls in person.
Mr. Trump said Thursday that near-universal vote-by-mail isn’t going to work without that additional money, which is holding up broader negotiations on the next coronavirus relief package.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany called Democrats’ $3.5 billion ask for vote-by-mail “fundamentally unserious.”
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Deborah Birx, Anthony Fauci recommend face shields
Top members of the White House coronavirus task force now say that face shields and goggles can be effective ways to combat the spread of the coronavirus — the latest shift in messaging from the federal government on the how to contain a pandemic that has now claimed more than 150,000 American lives. Dr. Deborah…
Top members of the White House coronavirus task force now say that face shields and goggles can be effective ways to combat the spread of the coronavirus — the latest shift in messaging from the federal government on the how to contain a pandemic that has now claimed more than 150,000 American lives.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said masks that cover the nose and mouth are meant to protect others from infection.
“The thing about the face shields — we think that that could protect the individuals and that it would decrease the ability for them to touch their eyes and spread [the] virus as well as those droplets coming towards them,” Dr. Birx said Thursday on “Fox & Friends.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said this week that if people have goggles or eye shields, they should consider using them.
“You have mucosa in the nose, mucosa in the mouth, but you also have mucosa in the eye,” Dr. Fauci told ABC News. “Theoretically, you should protect all the mucosal surfaces.”
The new medical advice came as news was breaking that former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain had become the latest high-profile victim of COVID-19. A supporter of President Trump, the 74-year-old onetime pizza chain executive contracted the virus shortly after attending Mr. Trump’s Tulsa political rally last month.
The coronavirus is believed to be spread primarily through droplets that people expel when sneezing, coughing or talking, though there is some evidence of airborne spread through particles that linger in the air for a longer time.
The coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China, in December. It swiftly blanketed the globe, killing over 668,000 people and now re-emerging in many countries that had once been thought to have the virus under control.
Mr. Trump on Thursday said he, like the public, just heard about the goggles advice.
“I only heard of goggles for the first time about one hour ago. Now I’m hearing about goggles, so I don’t know,” he said during a stop at the American Red Cross national headquarters in D.C.
At the meeting, Dr. Birx said Tennessee is including a mask, face shield, gloves and hand sanitizers in special packs for teachers who go back into the classroom.
Dr. Birx, Dr. Fauci and others in the federal government are pleading with ordinary Americans to at least wear a protective mask to help combat the spread of COVID-19 amid a resurgence of cases in the South and West and — most recently — parts of the Midwest.
Message from Trump country
But in the early stages of the pandemic, the Trump administration and top health officials were actively telling people not to wear masks, saying the supplies should be saved for frontline medical workers and there wasn’t necessarily evidence that they helped people avoid contracting the disease.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who urged the public in late February to “stop buying masks,” said Mr. Trump attracted positive attention in Miami for donning one recently.
“I was in Trump country, and they told me to deliver you a message, Mr. President. They told me to tell you you look badass in a face mask,” Dr. Adams told the president on Thursday.
Adm. Brett P. Giroir, the administration’s “testing czar,” said on Thursday that testing is important but it won’t control the national outbreak when there are 70,000 new documented cases per day.
“What will control the outbreak is the personal responsibility that we have been talking about for months,” Adm. Giroir told reporters on a conference call. “Avoid bars, avoid crowded indoor spaces, wear a mask. If you feel sick, stay at home. Protect the vulnerable. Wash your hands. That’s how we control the outbreak. Period. Full stop.”
Mr. Trump also pleaded with COVID-19 survivors Thursday to donate their blood plasma.
The “convalescent” plasma contains antibodies that can help patients fight off the virus. It is part of a trinity of promising treatments that also includes an antiviral drug, remdesivir, and a steroid, dexamethasone.
“If you’ve had the virus, if you donate it would be a terrific thing,” he said at the Red Cross. “You’ve gotten through it, and I guess that means you have something very special there.”
Mr. Trump wore a mask as he visited a donor, Marty Sarsfield. Mr. Sarsfield was hooked up in a basement room and a medical bag filled with his yellow plasma next to him.
“Strong. You’re very famous right now,” Mr. Trump told him.
Elsewhere, Adm. Giroir said there have been signs of progress in some places across the hard-hit Sun Belt but cautioned that no one is declaring mission accomplished.
“No one’s declaring victory. No one’s overly enthusiastic,” he said.
Mr. Trump on Thursday noted that place outside of the U.S. that were praised for their efforts to stamp out the coronavirus are seeing a resurgence, underscoring its wily nature and the need to protect the vulnerable instead of shutting the economy down again.
“Places where they thought they’d really done great,” Mr. Trump said. “It came back, and in a couple of cases came back very strongly.”
He said because of this, a long-term shutdown is not a viable strategy, after the U.S. closed much of its economy in March and April — only to see the virus spike again in certain states.
“It can come rearing back when you least expect it,” Mr. Trump said. “A permanent shutdown would no longer be the answer at all.”
Mr. Trump rattled off a list of countries, such as Australia and Japan, that are seeing spikes, and mentioned blue states where governors were praised for their responses, only to see an uptick.
But critics say the U.S., which has by far the most COVID-19 cases and deaths of any country in the world, likely didn’t shut down deep enough early on or have enough surveillance through testing to get the disease to manageable levels.
However, there have been some promising announcements on vaccine candidates in recent days.
Johnson & Johnson on Thursday announced the health company was starting human trials in its top vaccine candidate after there were promising results from injections in monkeys after a single dose.
The Trump administration has partnered with several companies, including Moderna and Pfizer, on vaccine development and distribution. Those companies both announced progress this week on Phase 3 clinical trials for their vaccine candidates.
The administration’s “Operation Warp Speed” is aiming to facilitate the development of a vaccine by the end of the year.
“We’re not going to cut any corners,” a senior administration official told reporters on a separate conference call Thursday. “If these vaccines are safe and effective, then the regulatory approval process goes appropriately.”
Public and private groups are working overtime to develop a vaccine, or at least therapeutics and treatments like plasma.
The use of plasma from recovered persons to treat patients with the same illness dates back to the 1890s and confers what’s known as “passive immunity,” since the recipient doesn’t produce his or her own antibodies but uses the donor’s, according to Nigel Paneth, a distinguished professor of epidemiology at Michigan State University.
“It works best when given early. It is probably ineffective as a last resort,” he said. “Based on previous infections, ideally it should be given in the first three days of illness, though we don’t have complete data for this on COVID.”
So far, over 50,000 people have received plasma for COVID-19 in the U.S., according to an initiative coordinated by the Mayo Clinic.
Members of Congress who have tested positive for the virus and recovered have donated their plasma and urged fellow survivors to do the same.
As for face shields and eye coverings, other experts have said there could be some benefits but that there hasn’t been extensive research on the topic.
Dr. Donald Milton, a University of Maryland professor who has written extensively on the airborne spread of the virus, said eye protection for people who must have face-to-face contact with others — such as dentists and barbers — is important.
“As personal protective equipment (PPE), eye protection is less important for other people, but still can offer some added protection in addition to face masks,” Dr. Milton said.
He said face shields probably block some release of the virus into the air, but that he would not recommend using face shields as an alternative to masks.
“I also expect that they are not generally as effective at blocking release of virus into the air as are masks,” he said.
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Dr. Anthony Fauci says photo of him without a mask at baseball game is ‘mischievous’
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been advising President Trump’s coronavirus task force, came under scrutiny when a photo of him surfaced at a baseball game Thursday not wearing a mask, but sitting close to two people. Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been encouraging the public to wear…
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been advising President Trump’s coronavirus task force, came under scrutiny when a photo of him surfaced at a baseball game Thursday not wearing a mask, but sitting close to two people.
Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been encouraging the public to wear masks to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
He threw out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals’ game on Thursday, but a photo of him in the stands with his wife and a friend caught the attention of some reporters. They were not socially distanced, and he had his mask pulled down.
Yasher Ali, a contributor to New York Magazine and Huffington Post, tweeted out the photo, saying the doctor should set a better example. He has since deleted his tweet.
But Dr. Fauci pushed back on the critics Friday on Fox News, saying he was dehydrated and was drinking water. He also noted he tested negative for the coronavirus hours before.
“I was drinking water trying to rehydrate myself,” Dr. Fauci said.
“I wear a mask all the time when I am outside,” he added. “If people want to make something about that they can, but to me, I think that is mischievous.”
Dr. Fauci also predicted there will be a vaccine for COVID-19 by the end of the year or early 2021.
He has come under scrutiny from critics that say Dr. Fauci has been wrong about the virus a number of times. At first, he said masks were not necessary and also suggested travel from China should not have been halted. Since then, he has reversed his position on both issues.
Mr. Trump has even described his adviser, Dr. Fauci, as “an alarmist.”
The president has been critical of masks, saying advisers first said they were not needed but now are saying they should be mandatory. He has since said he will wear one in public when he cannot socially distance after coming under scrutiny by the media for not setting an example for Americans.
Many localities are mandating masks be worn in public — even outside, not just indoors. Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser implemented her strict mask mandate earlier this week, only allowing for minor exemptions such as children under 2 years old and people engaging in exercise outdoors.
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