The politicization of COVID-19 is the most extreme of any health problem that Dr. Anthony Fauci has seen in his career, the infectious disease expert revealed in his latest review of the coronavirus pandemic.
The battle against the disease has “taken on a political tone like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Fauci said in an interview Thursday arranged by National Geographic magazine.
And it’s not helping, he noted. “We certainly are not where I hoped we would be,” Fauci said.
The animosity and pushback he experienced while battling HIV and AIDS were “never anything” as “serious” as it is now, when he and his family have been threatened with death as he works to protect public health, Fauci explained. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases appeared to still be stunned by the vicious reaction — and at a loss to explain it. Fauci attributed it to an extreme, disturbing divisiveness in the nation.
“It seems inconceivable,” he told interviewer Deborah Roberts of ABC News. “Take a deep breath and think about it: When you’re trying to promote public health principles to save people’s lives … that there’s such divisiveness in the country that [it’s] interpreted to be so far from your own way of thinking that you actually want to threaten the person.”
He added: “It’s tough for me to figure that out except to say, ’Boy, I hope we get past this divisiveness in our country. … [There’s] just no way that our society can really function well and go along that way. We’ve got to get past that.”
Fauci said it would be helpful if people would think about health and safety measures not as “blocking” a return to more normal times but as “gateways” to getting there — one thoughtful, careful step at a time.
He also seemed to take subtle shots at Donald Trump, who has refused to recommend or mandate national guidelines, such as wearing a mask, to help stem the spread of COVID-19 — and the president’s dismissive responses to the death toll.
“You can’t run away from the numbers of people who’ve died, the number of people [who] are getting hospitalized, the surges we’re seeing,” Fauci said. Improving the future “is going to depend on us,” he added.
Fauci characterized the U.S. approach to dealing with COVID-19 as scattershot — and disappointing. “Bottom line is, I’m not pleased with how things are going,” he told Roberts.
“We did not have a universal [strategy] in the sense of everybody pulling in the same direction, of the kinds of things that can contain and slow down an outbreak … distancing, masks, avoiding crowds, outdoors better than indoors, washing hands, doing things like closing bars, where appropriate, because that seems to be a hot spot of transmission,” he explained. Areas began relaunching economic activity too soon when case numbers were still very high — and even surging, he noted.
Leaders need to use their heads about reopening schools, Fauci cautioned. In-person instruction may be possible in “green zone” communities where infection rates are very low. But in “red zones,” where cases are surging, “local leaders and parents should carefully consider whether they want to put kids back in school under those circumstances.”
Fauci also expressed skepticism about a purported COVID-19 vaccine from Russia. “Having a vaccine” and “proving that a vaccine is safe and effective are two different things,” he said.
Once a successful vaccine is proved to be safe for use in the U.S., Fauci said, he would “gladly accept” one that is 50% to 75% effective. But people couldn’t then throw “caution to the wind.” Such a vaccination would be a “very important additional tool” to public health measures.
Check out Fauci’s interview in the video above or in this transcript.
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