In an interview with Science, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases whose presence on the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force has made him a household name as the United States responds to the coronavirus pandemic, admitted it’s difficult to ensure that President Donald Trump’s comments on the virus are accurate.
“Most everyone thinks that you’re doing a remarkable job, but you’re standing there as the representative of truth and facts but things are being said that aren’t true and aren’t factual,” asked Science‘s Jon Cohen.
“The way it happened is that after he made that statement [suggesting China could have revealed the discovery of a new coronavirus three to four months earlier], I told the appropriate people, it doesn’t comport, because two or three months earlier would have been September,” Fauci replied. “The next time they sit down with him and talk about what he’s going to say, they will say, by the way, Mr. President, be careful about this and don’t say that. But I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down. OK, he said it. Let’s try and get it corrected for the next time.”
The president is known for volatile behavior and has been criticized for undermining the opinion of experts. Asked how he’s “managing to not get fired,” Fauci said, “Well, that’s pretty interesting because to his [President Trump’s] credit, even though we disagree on some things, he listens. He goes his own way. He has his own style. But on substantive issues, he does listen to what I say.”
Fauci, like many health experts, has advocated for social distancing to slow the spread of the virus, which has infected more than 352,000 people worldwide. Social distancing requires that individuals stay away from each other and also curbs large gatherings. But White House press conferences are typically attended by a slew of journalists and public officials who crowd into a single room. When asked about that, Fauci said that he continues to recommend that the White House hold virtual press conferences, but has so far received pushback. (He did note that Vice President Mike Pence has been “really pushing for physical separation of the task force [during meetings].”
“The situation on stage [for the press briefings] is a bit more problematic,” he said. “I keep saying, is there any way we can get a virtual press conference. Thus far, no. But when you’re dealing with the White House, sometimes you have to say things 1,2,3,4 times, and then it happens. So I’m going to keep pushing.”
Late last night, President Trump suggested easing up on social distancing restrictions, saying the government would reassess the recommended period for keeping businesses shuttered and workers home after this week, even though health experts believe lifting restrictions would result in the deaths of more people.
The novel coronavirus has killed at least 458 Americans nationwide according to the most recent statistics, with deaths expected to spike due in large part to the virus’s long incubation period and a lackluster government response.