Politico

Fauci: Trump administration's Covid strategy 'very likely did' cost lives


The Trump administration’s lack of candor and habitual breaks with scientific guidance in its pandemic response “very likely did” cost lives, Anthony Fauci said Friday morning.

“When you start talking about things that make no sense medically and no sense scientifically, that clearly is not helpful,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN Friday.

“There’s no secret, we’ve had a lot of divisiveness, we’ve had facts that were very, very clear, that were questioned,” Fauci said. “People were not trusting what health officials were saying. There was great divisiveness, masking became a political issue.”

Former President Donald Trump faced significant criticism over the final year of his presidency for his pandemic response, which strayed often from the guidance of his own administration’s health officials and veered often into bizarre territory.

From the pandemic’s early stages, Trump regularly downplayed the risk Covid-19 posed to Americans and predicted often that the U.S. would soon have the virus beat, even as cases spiked around the country. He resisted the best practices recommended by his own public health team, declining to wear a mask in public and holding large-scale rallies, both indoors and outdoors, with thousands of supporters.

Trump frequently touted the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for Covid-19 despite there being no evidence of it being effective. At one point last spring, he suggested Americans should inject themselves with disinfectants to combat the virus.

Fauci’s regular appearances at White House coronavirus briefings made him a household name throughout the pandemic, but his relationship with Trump quickly soured as the NIAID chief refused to fall in line with the then-president’s inconsistent and at-times dangerous Covid-19 rhetoric. Trump called Fauci an idiot and a “disaster,” saying “if we listened to him, we’d have 700,000 [or] 800,000 deaths.” Trump accused Fauci and other health officials of exaggerating the pandemic’s severity and criticized officials for saying early on that masks weren’t necessary.

As the pandemic wore on, Fauci’s appearances at the White House grew increasingly rare, as did contact between the two men.

Fauci said in a news conference with White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday that his work with the Biden administration thus far has been “liberating.” Fauci has said the Trump administration prevented him from making some media appearances and that the White House hampered the flow of public health information.

“You didn’t feel you could actually say something and there wouldn’t be repercussions about it,” Fauci said in the news conference Thursday. “One of the new things in this administration, is if you don’t know the answer, don’t guess. Just say you don’t know the answer.”

Fauci said in an interview Thursday that there is “complete transparency” under the Biden administration.

On CNN Friday, he also said that there was a coronavirus strategy under the Trump administration, but that it “wasn’t articulated well.”

“The separation of the federal government and the states … was really a lesion,” Fauci said on CNN. “You don’t want the federal government to do everything and you don’t want the states to do everything. … What we saw a lot of was saying ‘OK states, do what you want to do.’ And states were doing things that clearly were not the right direction.”

Biden’s Covid-19 strategy has included directing FEMA to establish Covid-19 liaisons to “maximize cooperation between the federal government and the states” and reimbursing states for using the National Guard in relief efforts.

“The best thing to do is to have a plan, have the federal government interact with the states in a synergistic, collaborative, cooperative way, helping them with resources and helping them with a plan, at the same time respecting the individual issues that any individual state might have,” Fauci said.

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