What a difference a day makes.
It’s been a turbulent week for President Trump’s relationship with the nation’s top infectious-disease specialist. With a rise in COVID-19 cases in most U.S. states, particularly Texas, Arizona, California and Florida, and reversals by some of their plans to reopen, the White House appears to have acknowledged that there is no immediate end in sight for the rocky relationship between President Donald Trump and Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for three decades and a leading expert on pandemics in the U.S. for four decades.
After the doctor criticized the U.S. response and the Trump criticized the doctor, Fauci on Monday made a low-key visit to the White House to meet with Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff. It came a day after the White House released a list of criticisms of Fauci to the Washington Post, and what looked like a souring of relationships between the doctor and the Trump administration. That list included comments made by Fauci earlier in the pandemic on how he was not immediately worried about asymptomatic spreading and how people didn’t need to wear masks.
“ ‘If we have any hope of ending this crisis, all of America must support public health experts, including Dr. Fauci, and stand with science.’ ”
On Tuesday, Thomas File, Jr., president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, released a statement on behalf of his colleagues throwing their support behind Fauci. “The only way out of this pandemic is by following the science, and developing evidence-based prevention practices and treatment protocols as new scientifically rigorous data become available. Knowledge changes over time. That is to be expected. If we have any hope of ending this crisis, all of America must support public health experts, including Dr. Fauci, and stand with science.”
“As 12,000 medical doctors, research scientists and public-health experts on the front lines of COVID-19, the infectious diseases community will not be silenced nor sidelined amidst a global pandemic,” he said. “Reports of a campaign to discredit and diminish the role of Dr. Fauci at this perilous moment are disturbing. Despite the nation’s vast resources and abilities, more than 135,000 people in America have died from COVID-19, more than any other country,” he said, adding, “This is a full-blown crisis unlike any America has ever faced and it needs to be treated as such.”
Judith Feinberg, chair of the HIV Medicine Association, added in a separate statement: “We have been very fortunate to have Dr. Fauci at the helm directing infectious diseases research at National Institutes of Health for so many years. His leadership and support of a rigorous scientific process has been critical to transforming HIV from a death sentence to a chronic condition, saving millions of lives worldwide. His voice and expertise need to be amplified not silenced if we are going to get control of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
On Sunday, Adm. Brett Giroir, the testing coordinator at the Department of Health and Human Services, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Fauci was not correct in his advice to states to slow down the opening of businesses: “I respect Dr. Fauci a lot, but Dr. Fauci is not 100% right, and he also doesn’t necessarily, he admits that, have the whole national interest in mind. He looks at it from a very narrow public-health point of view,” Giroir said. The day, Trump retweeted this tweet: “So based on Dr. Fauci and the Democrats, I will need an ID card to go shopping but not to vote?”
The president also retweeted this tweet over the weekend: “The most outrageous lies are the ones about Covid 19. Everyone is lying. The CDC, Media, Democrats, our Doctors, not all but most that we are told to trust. I think it’s all about the election and keeping the economy from coming back, which is about the election. I’m sick of it.” Fauci told the Financial Times that he has not briefed the president since June 2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention originally told people not to wear masks, but along with the Trump administration, reversed that policy in April.
“When you compare us to other countries, I don’t think you can say we’re doing great. I mean, we’re just not,” Fauci told the FiveThirtyEight podcast last week, which appears to have been taken by the White House as a direct rebuke of the president. Most voters said they approved of Fauci, although the majority of Republicans said so by a whisker, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll of 1,337 registered voters from June 17 to June 22. Overall, 67% of voters said they approved of the doctor, including 81% of Democrat, 51% of Republicans and 67% of Independents.
“ ‘We have been very fortunate to have Dr. Fauci at the helm directing infectious diseases research at National Institutes of Health for so many years.’ ”
Last week, Trump also doubled down on his criticism of Fauci’s response to the pandemic. “Dr. Fauci’s a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes,” he said on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. “Like you don’t have to ban them coming in from very infected China. I did it anyway and we saved hundreds of thousands of lives.” He added, “They’ve been wrong about a lot things, including face masks,” he added. “Maybe they’re wrong, maybe not, but a lot of them said don’t wear a mask, don’t wear a mask. Now they are saying wear a mask. So a lot of mistakes were made — a lot of mistakes.”
The president has rarely worn a mask in public and has not said Americans should wear masks. In a break with his tradition of eschewing any face covering, he wore one this past weekend while visiting Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. On April 13, when reporters questioned Fauci about possible tension between him and the administration, Fauci said he made recommendations to Trump to restrict travel. “The travel was another recommendation, when we went in and said, ‘We probably should be doing that,’” Fauci said. “And the answer was yes.”
Trump himself has previously been circumspect on masks. On April 3, the administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed their policies on masks, and said everyone — not just medical workers, as they previously said — should wear face coverings. Trump cited “recent studies” of asymptomatic transmission for the U-turn, while the CDC cited “new evidence.” That same day, Trump said his administration recommended wearing cloth face coverings. However, he said he wouldn’t wear a mask himself. “You don’t have to do it. I’m choosing not to do it.”
Fauci recently said that the U.S. government had not been doing well with contact tracing, the process of tracing people who have been in contact with someone identified to have the virus. “I don’t think we’re doing very well, for a number of reasons, and not all of which is the fault of the system,” he said in an interview last month with CNN’s T, +0.67% Elizabeth Cohen. (COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, had infected 13.2 million people globally and 3.4 million in the U.S. as of Tuesday. It had killed 574,762 people worldwide and 136,093 in the U.S.
On Monday, CNN reporter Jim Acosta asked White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany: “Why is the White House trashing Dr. Fauci? The president has gone off on anonymous sources in the past. Why not have the guts to trash Dr. Fauci with your own names?” McEnany said suggestions that there was opposition research on Fauci “couldn’t be further from the truth.” Acosta pointed out that, in April, Trump floated the idea of using ultraviolet light inside the human body or a disinfectant by “injection” as a treatment for coronavirus. The next day, Trump said he was not being serious.
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