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July 19, 2020, 9:38 a.m. EDT

White House animus toward Fauci may escalate as he calls coronavirus pandemic ‘your worst nightmare, the perfect storm’

‘This was avoidable,’ says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, continues run of media appearances that are likely to only further upset the administration

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By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch


MarketWatch photo illustration/Getty Images
President Donald Trump and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, are rapidly diverging in their respective messages on the coronavirus.

Fauci is not for turning.

It’s been a turbulent week for President Donald Trump’s relationship with the nation’s top infectious-disease specialist. With a rise in COVID-19 cases in most U.S. states, particularly Texas, Arizona, California and Florida, and reversals by some of their plans to reopen, the White House appears to have acknowledged that there will be immediate healing to an fractured relationship with Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for three decades and a leading expert on pandemics in the U.S. for four decades.

‘You can physically separate people to the point of not allowing the virus to transmit, and the only way to do that is by draconian means.’

Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

The Dow Jones Industrial Index /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -0.38%  closed lower Friday though stocks post modest weekly gains, as investors tracked round two of the potential fiscal stimulus. The S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -0.80%  and Nasdaq Composite /zigman2/quotes/210598365/realtime COMP -1.69%  ended the week up slightly. The Trump administration is trying to block $25 billion for states to conduct testing and contact tracing in the next coronavirus relief bill, people involved in the talks told the Washington Post on Saturday . Wait times vary from a matter of hours to up to 26 days in some extreme cases.

In an interview with Stanford Medicine’s dean, Lloyd Minor, the doctor said there is a way to flatten the curve of new cases. “We know that we can do that if we shut down. The Europeans have done it. People in Asia have done it. We did not shut down entirely.” Contrary to the president’s insistence that it’s time to get the country’s economy up and running, Fauci paints a darker picture: “It’s happened — your worst nightmare, the perfect storm. We haven’t even begun to see the end of it yet. It’s still globally threatening.”

Fauci, meanwhile, told the Financial Times in an interview published last weekend that he had not briefed the president since June 2, though the two were subsequently reported to have spoken late this week. After the doctor criticized the U.S. response to the pandemic and Trump criticized the doctor, last Monday Fauci made a low-key visit to the White House to meet with Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff. It came a day after the administration released a list to the Washington Post that contained criticisms of the doctor, and signaled a further souring of relations between Fauci and the Trump administration.

The list included comments made by Fauci in the early days of the pandemic about how he was not immediately worried about asymptomatic spreading and how Americans didn’t need to wear masks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention originally told the public not to wear masks but, along with the Trump administration, reversed that policy in April. (The disseminated document was widely described as resembling nothing so much as opposition research, a characterization that the White House denied.)

But the backlash to the White House documentation of Fauci’s past remarks was swift. On Tuesday, Thomas File Jr., president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, released a statement on behalf of colleagues throwing their support behind Fauci. “The only way out of this pandemic is by following the science, and developing evidence-based prevention practices and treatment protocols as new scientifically rigorous data become available. Knowledge changes over time. That is to be expected. If we have any hope of ending this crisis, all of America must support public health experts, including Dr. Fauci, and stand with science.”

‘If we have any hope of ending this crisis, all of America must support public health experts, including Dr. Fauci, and stand with science.’

Thomas File Jr., Infectious Diseases Society of America

On Sunday, Adm. Brett Giroir, the testing coordinator at the Department of Health and Human Services, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Fauci was not correct in his advice to states to slow down the opening of businesses: “I respect Dr. Fauci a lot, but Dr. Fauci is not 100% right, and he also doesn’t necessarily, he admits that, have the whole national interest in mind. He looks at it from a very narrow public-health point of view.”

That same day, Trump doubled down on his own effort to discredit Fauci. He appeared to endorse via retweet this sentiment from game-show host Chuck Woolery over the weekend: “The most outrageous lies are the ones about Covid 19. Everyone is lying. The CDC, Media, Democrats, our Doctors, not all but most that we are told to trust. I think it’s all about the election and keeping the economy from coming back, which is about the election. I’m sick of it.” (The president also retweeted this, from the co-host of Woolery’s podcast : “So based on Dr. Fauci and the Democrats, I will need an ID card to go shopping but not to vote?”)

“When you compare us to other countries, I don’t think you can say we’re doing great. I mean, we’re just not,” Fauci told the FiveThirtyEight podcast last week, which appeared to be taken by the White House as a direct rebuke of the president. Most voters said they approved of Fauci, although the majority of Republicans said so by a whisker, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll of 1,337 registered voters from June 17 to June 22. Overall, 67% of voters said they approved of the doctor, including 81% of Democrat, 51% of Republicans and 67% of independents.

Last week, Trump also doubled down on his criticism of Fauci’s response to the pandemic. “Dr. Fauci's a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes,” he said on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. “Like you don’t have to ban them coming in from very infected China. I did it anyway and we saved hundreds of thousands of lives.” He added, “They’ve been wrong about a lot things, including face masks,” he added. “Maybe they’re wrong, maybe not, but a lot of them said don’t wear a mask, don’t wear a mask. Now they are saying wear a mask. So a lot of mistakes were made — a lot of mistakes.”

Anthony Fauci posing for a special digital cover of InStyle magazine.

Related: Here’s one ‘remarkable’ difference between COVID-19 and the 1918 Spanish flu

On April 3, the administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed their policies on masks, and said everyone — not just medical workers — should wear face coverings. That same day, Trump said his administration recommended wearing cloth face coverings. However, the president immediately volunteered that he wouldn’t wear a mask himself. “You don’t have to do it. I’m choosing not to do it.” In a rare break with his tradition of eschewing any face covering, he wore one last weekend while visiting Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Fauci recently said that the U.S. government had not been doing well with contact tracing, the process of tracking people who have been in contact with someone identified to have the virus. “I don’t think we’re doing very well, for a number of reasons, and not all of which is the fault of the system,” he said in an interview last month with CNN /zigman2/quotes/203165245/composite T 0.00% . On April 13, when reporters questioned Fauci about possible tension between him and the administration, Fauci said he made recommendations to Trump to restrict travel. “The travel was another recommendation, when we went in and said, ‘We probably should be doing that,’ ” Fauci said. “And the answer was yes.”

‘We have been very fortunate to have Dr. Fauci at the helm directing infectious diseases research at National Institutes of Health for so many years.’

Judith Feinberg, HIV Medicine Association

On Monday, CNN reporter Jim Acosta asked White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany: “Why is the White House trashing Dr. Fauci? The president has gone off on anonymous sources in the past. Why not have the guts to trash Dr. Fauci with your own names?” McEnany said suggestions that there was opposition research on Fauci “couldn’t be further from the truth.” Acosta pointed out that, in April, Trump floated the idea of using ultraviolet light inside the human body or a disinfectant by “injection” as a treatment for coronavirus.

Indeed, Trump told a press conference: “I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that,” he said. “So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light — and I think you said that that hasn’t been checked, but you’re going to test it. And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body.”

The next day, Trump and allies said he was not being serious. His original comments drew widespread criticism from health professionals and Reckitt Benckiser /zigman2/quotes/204605475/delayed RBGPF -1.03% , which makes Lysol and Dettol. “I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen.” When asked by a reporter whether Trump was suggesting disinfectant as an injection, the president replied, “No. Of course not. ... It was said sarcastically. It was put in the form of a question to a group of extraordinary hostile people. Namely, the fake news media.”

Also this week, Judith Feinberg, who chairs the HIV Medicine Association, added in a separate statement: “We have been very fortunate to have Dr. Fauci at the helm directing infectious-diseases research at the National Institutes of Health for so many years. His leadership and support of a rigorous scientific process has been critical to transforming HIV from a death sentence to a chronic condition, saving millions of lives worldwide. His voice and expertise need to be amplified not silenced if we are going to get control of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

<STRONG /> Fauci’s history with the HIV/AIDS epidemic, particularly in the early days, and his relationship with activists is more complex than that. “They blocked the doors and hallways chanting, ‘Hey, Hey, FDA, How Many People Have You Killed Today’ and ‘Fauci, You Are Killing Us.’ After their action they launched a media tour demanding a shortened drug-approval process and illustrating that they all knew every detail of the complex FDA process,” according to journalist Ann Montague , who revisited that chapter in Fauci’s career. “Tensions came to a head in 1990 when activists were not given a seat at the table where the discussions were taking place regarding the AIDS clinical trials.”

“There was a massive demonstration outside Fauci’s office with activists wearing Grim Reaper masks and carrying large coffins. There were 60 arrests. Recently, in an interview Dr. Fauci recalled being smoke bombed. Eventually Dr. Fauci ended up loosening HIV drug clinical trial requirements so that more patients could try new compounds,” Montague wrote in Socialist Action, adding, “Act Up members were included in writing procedural standards, and they were added to expanded seats on the planning committee of the AIDS Clinical Trial Group. This was a significant win.” (Fauci was not immediately available for comment on his time dealing with the AIDS pandemic.)

Ann Northrop, a lesbian AIDS activist at that time, told Montague that Fauci’s relationship with AIDS activists at the time evolved: “I would say at the beginning of his encounter with us, he was a pretty typical bureaucrat, making excuses for the slow pace of drug investigation and approval. I will give him credit for turning into someone who listened more to the activist point of view and eventually became more of an ally. There also is agreement that he was never homophobic like the majority of the medical establishment at this time.” (President Ronald Reagan famously never mentioned AIDS until 1987.)

Fauci has continued his media road show, repeating his message that the current approach is not working. In an interview with Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB -2.61% CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the current jump in cases, which now hovers at 70,000, can be reversed, if the right steps are taken: “You have got to do it correctly,” he said. “You can’t jump over steps, which is very perilous when you think about rebound. The proof of the pudding is, look what has happened.” Perhaps more damning, he said, “This was avoidable.”

Fauci also said easing social-distancing requirements and reopening the economy too soon could ultimately cost even more lives, and said there needed to be a rethink of how states’ lawmakers were approaching the virus. He said the government must look to the medical community for advice on how to bring an end to the first wave in the U.S. “We have such extraordinary talent in our academic medical centers,” Fauci told Stanford dean Minor, “we really need to begin to leverage them more.”

As of Sunday, COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, had infected at least 14.3 million people globally and 3.7 million in the U.S. It had killed over 602,777 people worldwide and at least 140,120 in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering. Florida reported 10,327 new cases on Saturday. Texas reported over 10,000 new cases for the fifth consecutive day. The day before, the U.S. recorded over 70,000 new cases, exceeding previous records for the second consecutive day.

How COVID-19 is transmitted

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Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch's personal-finance editor and The Moneyist columnist for MarketWatch. You can follow him on Twitter @quantanamo.

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