Fauci Dispatch

Three Fauci quotes reveal how politics intersect with the pandemic

This week, Fauci talks a controversial campaign ad, Trump's positive coronavirus case, and the fall surge.

The second presidential debate is currently canceled, but the President is still debating someone. But it's not Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

This week, President Trump and Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have been squaring off. Fauci now features prominently in a Trump campaign ad (more on that later). For his part, Fauci has criticized the way the President has portrayed battling Covid-19 in the wake of his recovery.

But it hasn't been all politics for Fauci this week. He drew attention to signs that the long-awaited surge in coronavirus cases this fall may be underway, both in the U.S. and abroad. Cases in the U.K., France, and Spain spiked in late September and early October, according to 7-day rolling averages.

Here's Fauci's insight on the politics and science of the pandemic this week.

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.

  • Read the Fauci Dispatch from October 7, 2020 here
  • Read the Fauci Dispatch from October 1, 2020 here
  • Read the Fauci Dispatch from September 23, 2020 here
  • Read the Fauci Dispatch from September 16, 2020 here
  • Read the Fauci Dispatch from September 2, 2020 here
  • Read the Fauci Dispatch from August 26, 2020 here
  • Read the Fauci Dispatch from August 19, 2020 here
  • Read the Fauci Dispatch from August 13, 2020 here
  • Read the Fauci Dispatch from August 5, 2020 here
  • Read the Fauci Dispatch from July 29, 2020 here
  • Read the Fauci Dispatch from July 22, 2020 here

Fauci responds to Trump's campaign ad –  Speaking to multiple outlets, Fauci responded to the Trump administration's use of one of his soundbites in a campaign ad. In the ad, Fauci appears to praise the administration's response to the coronavirus. "I can’t imagine that… anybody could be doing more," he says in the video.

"By doing this against my will, they are in effect harassing me," Fauci told The Daily Beast on Monday in response to the ad.

The backdrop –  Fauci made it clear the administration did not have permission to use his quotes in campaign materials.

On Sunday he told CNN the ad had taken his statement "completely out of context." He clarified this statement was referring broadly to the federal pandemic response. Fauci also told The New York Times he has asked for the ad to be taken down.

The President responded by doubling down on the ad, ("They are indeed Dr. Fauci's own words," the President wrote in a tweet on Sunday), and, then by criticizing Fauci. In a Tuesday morning tweet, President Trump wrote: "Tony’s pitching arm is far more accurate than his prognostications," (a reference to Fauci's botched first pitch during Major League Baseball's opening day), and praised his own administration's response to the coronavirus.

Fauci on Trump's coronavirus recovery –  Speaking to STAT, Fauci said he was glad to see how quickly the President recovered from coronavirus. But he was also nervous about how his statements about his own health may be perceived by others:

"Because he is such a visible figure, it amplifies some of that misunderstanding that people have that it’s a benign disease and nobody has anything to worry about," Fauci said.

The backdrop – When the President first reemerged from the Walter Reed Medical center, he took to Twitter to share his experience with the coronavirus.

"Don't be afraid of Covid," the President wrote. "Don't let it dominate your life."

After those tweets, other lawmakers chimed in to downplay the severity of the virus. They included Republican Senator John Kennedy from Louisiana, who told Fox News the virus was "very contagious," but the President's illness suggested the coronavirus "is not nearly as lethal as the experts told us it was going to be."

There are reasons to fear Covid-19. While the disease may cause no or mild symptoms in some cases, it can devastate in others, and has killed more than 215,000 Americans so far. Scientists still don't know how Covid-19 affects essential organs, like the heart or brain. And some people struggle with symptoms or after-effects like fatigue for months after testing positive.

What Fauci highlights is that just because the President recovered well from the disease, it does not mean everyone who looks to him as a role-model will recover the same way.

That's the case for other high-profile officials, who also receive the highest standard of medical care. For instance, Herman Cain, a politician and supporter of President Trump, died after a battle with Covid-19 in July of this year.

States above and below the 5 percent positivity rate threshold, over the past 7 days. Fauci has pointed to states like Wisconsin, Idaho and South Dakota, where positivity is translating to a fall surge.

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Fauci on the arrival of the fall surge – During a College of American Pathologists meeting on Tuesday, Fauci said the fall surge of Covid-19 cases has arrived, with hot spots already in the Midwest.

To keep the virus' spread under control, officials aim to keep the percentage of positive coronavirus tests below a threshold of five percent (though an uptick to even three percent of tests returned positive was enough to raise alarm in New York City).

On Monday, President Trump held a rally in Florida, a state that is above the recommended threshold for Covid-19 positivity. Fauci has criticized Trump's actions in the wake of his experience with Covid-19.

SAUL LOEB/Getty Images

"We’re starting to see a number of states well above that, which is often, and in fact invariably, highly predictive of a resurgence of cases," Fauci said.

The backdrop – According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus resource center, 33 states are above that 5 percent threshold. That means that more than 5 percent of tests have been returned positive in the past week in these places.

In South Dakota, for instance, 23.6 percent of tests were returned positive last week. In Idaho and Wisconsin, positive tests also hovered above 20 percent.

The percentage of tests returned positive is one way scientists look for signs of a surge picking up steam. These can later result in more hospitalizations and deaths, which tend to lag behind positive-case counts.

Already, some states are already seeing the ill-effects of what CNN has called "the fall surge." Wisconsin, for instance, has opened a field hospital to help handle the overflow of coronavirus patients.

So far, the positivity rate for the whole country remains at about 5 percent. But there are states, particularly in the Northeast (including New York, Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts), where the threshold remains lower than 5 percent — balancing out states where the virus is surging.

As the winter progresses, health officials will be watching these states closely to make sure they stay that way, and hopefully keep the fall surge from getting farther out of hand.

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