Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that the U.S. is “in for a whole lot of hurt” as cases of COVID-19 soar to record-breaking numbers, and countered President Donald Trump’s frequent claims that the country is “rounding the turn” on the pandemic.
“We’re in for a whole lot of hurt. It’s not a good situation,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, told the Washington Post. “All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.”
In the last two weeks, average daily cases of COVID-19 have nearly doubled as more than 30 states experience surging numbers of new cases. On Friday, the U.S. saw a record-breaking 99,784 new infections. Fauci said if the country does not make an “abrupt change” in its handling of the pandemic it could soon see over 100,000 new cases a day and an increase in deaths.
Fauci said that hospitals are now “much better prepared” and have a better understanding of how to treat COVID-19 patients and avoid the high rate of deaths from April and May. But he’s concerned about the current spikes in rural areas with smaller hospitals.
“It’s much more about some of the states like Utah, Nevada, South Dakota, North Dakota, where … they never had a pretty good reserve of intensive care beds and things like that. I hope they’ll be okay, but it’s still a risk that, as you get more surging, they’re going to run out of capacity,” Fauci said.
The infectious disease expert also warned that even if people recover from COVID-19, they can develop chronic health problems and become “long haulers.” He warned against trying for herd immunity, which members of the Trump administration have indirectly recommended.
“The idea of this false narrative that if you don’t die, everything is hunky dory is just not the case,” he said. “But to say, ‘Let people get infected, it doesn’t matter, just make sure people don’t die’ — to me as a person who’s been practicing medicine for 50 years, it doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Fauci also criticized Trump’s handling of the pandemic, saying that his focus is on “the economy and reopening the country” and that the president no longer speaks with him daily, despite his role on the coronavirus task force.
“Right now, the public health aspect of the task force has diminished greatly,” Fauci said, adding that he hasn’t talked to Trump since early October, when the president called him as he was recovering from COVID-19 at Walter Reed Military Medical Center.
Fauci said that Trump’s opponent in Tuesday’s presidential election, former Vice President Joe Biden, plans to take the virus “seriously from a public health perspective.”
In response to Fauci’s comments, White House spokesman Judd Deere heavily criticized the public health expert, saying, “It’s unacceptable and breaking with all norms for Dr. Fauci, a senior member of the President’s Coronavirus Taskforce and someone who has praised President Trump’s actions throughout this pandemic, to choose three days before an election to play politics,” in a statement shared with PEOPLE.
Trump himself then criticized Fauci at a rally in Florida on Sunday and insinuated that he may fire him after the election, CNN reported. In response to the crowd's “Fire Fauci” chant, Trump said, “Don’t tell anybody, but let me wait until a little bit after the election. I appreciate the advice.” He also claimed that Fauci is “a nice guy but he’s been wrong a lot.”
Trump and Fauci have had a contentious relationship since the start of the pandemic, with the president alternately praising and criticizing the widely respected disease expert. More recently Fauci, who has worked under six presidents, criticized the Trump campaign for including him in a campaign ad, saying he was taken out of context and reiterating that he doesn’t discuss his political preferences.
The White House declined to comment on whether Trump would in fact fire Fauci. While Trump could remove Fauci from the task force, he does not directly oversee Fauci at the NIH and cannot fire the career appointee himself, but could potentially instruct his own appointees to dismiss him.
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