“President Trump, this week you called Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s best-known infectious-disease expert, quote, a disaster.”
— NBC moderator Kristen Welker
“I get along very well with Anthony, but he did say, ‘Don’t wear masks.’ He did say, as you know, ‘This is not going to be a problem.’ I think he’s a Democrat, but that’s okay.”
In a call with his campaign staff Monday, Trump said, “People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots.”
Fauci never said anything like “This is not going to be a problem.” He spoke as a scientist, evaluating the data in front of him. From the start, he warned of the need to be vigilant.
On Jan. 20, Fauci told CNN: “It really is an evolving situation, and we have to be prepared for the worst. I mean, I don’t think there is cause for panic on anyone’s part, but we certainly need to be following it and watching this very carefully.”
A month later, on Feb. 22, he also told CNN, “If this evolves into a pandemic, there’s no way we in the United States are going to escape having more infections in this country.” On Feb. 29, on the “Today” show, Fauci was asked whether daily routines should be changed. “Right now, at this moment, there’s no need to change anything that you’re doing on a day-by-day basis. Right now the risk is still low, but this could change,” he responded. “When you start to see community spread, this could change and force you to become much more attentive to doing things that would protect you from spread.”
He added: “I mean, this could be a major outbreak. I hope not. Or it could be something that’s reasonably well controlled.”
As for Trump’s claim that Fauci advised people not to wear masks, some important context is missing.
Fauci said he advised against masks at first because he was motivated by early fears that N95 masks needed by hospital workers would quickly run out of stock. Once science indicated that the virus was spread by people who were asymptomatic, the guidance was updated, because even fabric masks can help halt the spread if everyone wears them. (Trump has claimed falsely that 85 percent of mask-wearers catch the coronavirus.)
“I don’t regret anything I said then because in the context of the time in which I said it, it was correct. We were told in our task force meetings that we have a serious problem with the lack of PPEs [personal protective equipment] and masks for the health providers who are putting themselves in harm’s way every day to take care of sick people,” Fauci said in an interview with InStyle magazine.
“When it became clear that the infection could be spread by asymptomatic carriers who don’t know they’re infected, that made it very clear that we had to strongly recommend masks,” he said. “In the context of when we were not strongly recommending it, it was the correct thing. But our knowledge changed and our realization of the state of the outbreak changed.”
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