The nation’s top infectious diseases expert sharply split on Friday with President Donald Trump’s assertion that the country is “rounding the final turn” of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m sorry but I have to disagree with that,” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, calling the United States’ coronavirus levels seven months into the pandemic “disturbing.”
“We are plateauing around 40,000 cases a day and the deaths are around 1,000,” Fauci pointed out, adding that he hopes the country doesn’t see another spike following Labor Day weekend like it did after Memorial Day and Fourth of July as flu season draws closer.
“What we don’t want to see is going into the fall season, when people will be spending more time indoors — and that’s not good for a respiratory-borne virus — you don’t want to start off already with a baseline that’s so high,” he said, reiterating a point he has made consistently over the last few months.
His comments came less than a day after Trump told reporters at the White House that the U.S. might be nearing the end of its struggle with the virus, which has killed more than 192,000 and infected more than 6.4 million Americans.
Trump’s public commentary on the virus has come under even more scrutiny after remarks he made to the famed Watergate journalist Bob Woodward in February and March in which the president acknowledged the “deadly” nature of the virus. He also spoke of its ability to be transmitted through air particles, while at the same time reassuring the public that the risk of the pathogen was no worse than the flu.
The president told Woodward that he deliberately played down the virus so as not to panic Americans, a defense he has stood by since recordings of the interviews became public.
On the same day Trump suggested that the threat of the virus may be receding, Fauci told a panel of doctors from Harvard Medical School that “[w]e need to hunker down and get through this fall and winter because it’s not going to be easy.” Fauci cautioned Americans not to “underestimate” the pandemic and warned they shouldn’t “try and look at the rosy side of things.”
Fauci’s break from the president is nothing new, as Trump has frequently contradicted his top medical and scientific advisers throughout the pandemic, something the chief infectious diseases expert acknowledged Friday.
“As you know, there were times when I was out there telling the American public how difficult this is, how we’re having a really serious problem, you know, and the president was saying it’s something that’s going to disappear, which obviously is not the case,” he said, alluding to coronavirus briefings throughout the spring in which Fauci was often put in the position of rectifying Trump’s erroneous statements.
“So there was, and is, some disagreements in what we say and what comes out from the White House,” Fauci said.