The day before the 2020 presidential election, President Donald Trump hinted that he might fire Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
To a chorus of "fire Fauci" at a campaign rally in Florida, the President said: “Don’t tell anybody, but let me wait until a little bit after the election.”
Here is Fauci's take on why the United States needs an “abrupt change” to combat a bleak winter, what it's consistently done wrong to combat Covid-19, and the differences between Trump and Biden when it comes to controlling the pandemic.
As a public service, Inverse is aggregating Fauci's comments regularly in the "Fauci Dispatch" series, as the White House has severely limited his visibility to the public. You can read our previous coverage here.
Fauci on the need for “abrupt change”– In a lengthy interview with The Washington Post, Fauci warned that the U.S. needs an “abrupt change” to keep a second peak (not new wave – we never left the first wave) of coronavirus cases from leading to more death.
“All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors,” Fauci said. “You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.”
The backdrop – Fauci’s comments come as cases continue to surge in the U.S. On November 2, the country reported over 93,000 new cases. Thirty-six states have positivity rates higher than recommended levels.
In the Washington Post interview, Fauci stopped short of suggesting how the U.S. should manage an abrupt change. But one idea he has started to warm to is a universal mask mandate. Last week, Fauci suggested that it might finally be time for such a mandate.
"You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.”
Projections from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation indicate that a total of 500,000 Americans could die of Covid-19 by the end of February. But more than 129,000 lives could be saved if 95 percent of people wore masks, and social distancing mandates are reinstated.
Fauci on Biden and Trump – When pressed by the Washington Post to comment on both Trump and Biden’s approaches to the pandemic, Fauci offered succinct answers.
Biden’s campaign is “taking it seriously from a public health perspective,” he said. The Trump administration is “looking at it from a different perspective,” he continued. He clarified that this perspective is “the economy and reopening the country.”
The backdrop – Fauci has long stated that he wants to remain out of politics. “In my nearly five decades of public service, I have never publicly endorsed any political candidate,” he told CNN after appearing in a Trump campaign ad. The campaign had used Fauci’s comments against his will, Fauci indicated.
His brief comments to the post are some of the closest brushes Fauci has had with commenting directly on the candidates. Meanwhile, the candidates haven’t stopped talking about him.
Though support for Fauci seemed to waver this summer, it remains strong on election day. A CNBC poll reported that 72 percent of voters nationwide said they approve of how Fauci has handled the outbreak. That approval is 66 percent in battleground states.
After President Trump implied he might fire Fauci during the Florida campaign rally, the Biden campaign was quick to respond with the fact that he would hire him.
That said, Fauci has also warned of the dangers of mixing public health and politics. Speaking to JAMA he cautioned that mask-wearing, which could save over 129,000 lives this winter had become “a political statement.” Before there was even coronavirus, scientists worried that vaccines had become a political issue — which could limit the willingness of those who don’t share certain candidates’ views from benefiting from safe and effective ways to prevent disease.
If an election held in the middle of a pandemic tells us anything, it’s that politics and science are firmly entwined. And though Fauci indicated he prefers to keep himself out of it, he’s not stopped commenting on how well we’ve dealt with coronavirus so far:
“We’re in for a whole lot of hurt. It’s not a good situation,” he told The Washington Post.
Fauci on how the U.S. went wrong – Speaking during a web seminar hosted by the University of Melbourne, Fauci suggested that piecemeal attempts to control the virus state-by-state have left the country in a dire situation.
“That would have been nice if all the states did that the same way,” Fauci said, commenting on the states’ approaches to reopening their economies. What happened instead was “like a free-for-all,” Fauci said.
The backdrop – Last week, Fauci indicated that we might start to “see the sun come up” on the coronavirus pandemic near the end of 2021. That's when he expects to see a widely dispersed vaccine. But this week, he cautioned that the U.S. is currently headed in the wrong direction.
It's not really a surprise: Experts have warned that the United States would experience a “patchwork pandemic” (as the Atlantic’s Ed Yong put it in May) with inconsistent guidelines across states that have allowed the virus to thrive regionally. Regional outbreaks in the South and West hit this summer. Now the Midwest is in the virus’ grasp.
South Dakota has returned 50 percent of coronavirus tests back positive for the past 14 days, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Iowa has returned 37 percent of tests positive. And Kansas 36 percent.
The single strongest predictor of whether a mask policy would be enacted, according to a study published by the University of Washington, was not disease-related. Instead, it was whether that state had a Republican governor.
Ultimately, Fauci argued that regardless of politics or attitudes, everyone needs to be on the same page to get the virus under control in the US.
“If everybody had done [masks, social distancing, avoiding crowds] uniformly,” Fauci said, “I don’t think we would be in the position we’re in right now.”
A final reminder – Fauci plans to vote in-person. As he said back in October:
“I like the atmosphere of going and voting.”