Fauci takes aim at Trump administration, state lawmakers and young Americans: ‘You’re propagating the pandemic’

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Despite his broken relationship with President Donald Trump, Anthony Fauci has continued to spread his message: Practice social distancing, put public health above the rush to reopen businesses — or face the consequences.

In an hour-long interview with Facebook FB, +0.27% co-founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg Thursday evening, Fauci had a warning for young Americans: “You have to have responsibility for yourself, but also a societal responsibility that you’re getting infected is not just you in a vacuum. You’re propagating the pandemic.”

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for three decades appeared to take aim at the response to the coronavirus pandemic by the Trump administration — which has called for schools to reopen — and state lawmakers — who have enacted a patchwork of policies, including opening up their economies despite a surge in new cases.

Fauci said that easing social-distancing requirements and reopening the economy too soon could ultimately cost even more lives. “You have got to do it correctly,” he said. “You can’t jump over steps, which is very perilous when you think about rebound. The proof of the pudding is, look what has happened.”

COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, had infected at least 13.8 million people globally and 3.6 million in the U.S. as of Friday morning. It had killed 589,911 people worldwide and 138,358 in the U.S.

On Thursday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp filed suit against the Atlanta City Council and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who issued a mandate to residents to wear face masks in public spaces. “This lawsuit is on behalf of the Atlanta business owners and their hardworking employees who are struggling to survive during these difficult times,” Kemp, a Republican, tweeted TWTR, -1.09%.

The dispute in Georgia illustrates how the response to the COVID-19 pandemic is split along political lines, with most Republican lawmakers pushing businesses to reopen, while Democratic lawmakers, such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, take a more conservative approach.

The debacle in Atlanta over face masks, meanwhile, looks set to escalate. “I am not afraid of the city being sued and I’ll put our policies up against anyone’s, any day of the week,” Bottoms, a Democrat, responded, insisting that the city’s mandate still stands.

President Donald Trump and Anthony Fauci. Fauci visited the White House on Monday, but has not briefed the president since June 2.

MarketWatch photo illustration/Getty Images

The fractured relationship between President Donald Trump and Anthony Fauci shows no signs of improving. The latest shot: USA Today on Wednesday published an op-ed by White House trade adviser Peter Navarro that took aim at Fauci. Navarro said of Fauci: “He has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.”

‘I just want to do my job. I’m really good at it. I think I can contribute. And I’m going to keep doing it.’

— Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

“When I warned in late January in a memo of a possibly deadly pandemic, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases was telling the news media not to worry,” Navarro added.

The White House said the op-ed was not cleared before publication, and USA Today said Navarro’s op-ed did not meet its standards.

The deterioration in the what was once an appearance of unity — however fragile — is likely far from over, as moves by Trump to fire Fauci would likely be met with a backlash by the public and the medical community, and would also be subject to appeals, experts say. Since February, President Trump said that the coronavirus would “disappear,” “fade away” and/or “go away” more than a dozen times.

On Wednesday, Bill Sternberg, USA Today editorial page editor, wrote in a note at the top of the op-ed: “Several of Navarro’s criticisms of Fauci — on the China travel restrictions, the risk from the coronavirus and falling mortality rates — were misleading or lacked context.

Navarro’s op-ed did not meet USA Today’s fact-checking standards, he said, adding, “We dealt directly with Navarro and do not know whether he spoke to anyone else at the White House about his statement.”

When asked how he can continue to when the government appears to be actively trying to discredit him, this time by a senior White House figure, Fauci replied: “That is a bit bizarre.” He said that such attacks would backfire on the Trump administration: “It doesn’t do anything but reflect poorly on them.”

On Thursday, Fauci told Zuckerberg: “We should be looking at public-health measures as a vehicle, or a gateway, to opening the country, not as the obstacle.”

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