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Dr. Anthony Fauci says that the level of seriousness being shown by President Trump in the public communication about COVID-19 has been a “bone of contention.”
“What I try to do is stay very, very closely aligned with the science and come out with a very consistent and clear message,” said the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) on Monday night.
During a chat with New Yorker staff writer Michael Specter during this year’s virtual edition of the annual New Yorker Festival, Fauci was asked about Trump’s tweet earlier on Monday, in which the president said he was “feeling really good!” after testing positive for COVID-19 and told his followers, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. … I feel better than I did 20 years ago!” Also in that tweet, the president, who after a three-day stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, said he would be discharged Monday evening to continue his recovery at the White House.
About 40 minutes into the Fauci chat, a masked President Trump walked out of Walter Reed hospital and gave a thumbs-up to onlookers and assembled reporters. He boarded Marine One and arrived back at the White House shortly after.
“Obviously, it is a very unusual pathogen that can have virtually no effect, in the sense that 40 to 45 percent of people can be without symptoms. And then for those who have symptoms, the overwhelming majority are mild,” said Fauci of the science behind COVID-19 when asked about Trump’s tweet on Monday night. “But there are a group of individuals who fall into a certain subset or category, mainly the elderly and those with underlying conditions at any age, who can have a severe outcome. And we know that severe outcome could be anything from just feeling really, really sick to requiring hospitalization, requiring intensive care, possibly ventilation and even death.”
He continued, “You look at the now 210,000 people in the United States of America who have died, and you talk about the 7 million who have been infected; the one million who have died globally. I think anybody who is looking at this realistically has to say this is a very serious situation. Even though it’s confused by the fact that such a substantial portion of people generally do quite well. But it is a very serious disease that we need to reckon with.”
When Specter pressed Fauci about Trump’s messaging, asking if the takeaway should instead be to take care and get rest, Fauci said, “Obviously, the message should be that we should try as best as we can to avoid infection. No matter who you are, how old you are, or what your underlying condition is, we should not trivialize it.”
To underscore that point, Fauci predicted that while a return “normal” life will eventually happen, he says the pandemic protocols currently in place will go on for “months and months” until a majority of the population is vaccinated. “I don’t think we’re going to be back to normal until the end of 2021,” he says. “We may do better than that — I hope so, but I don’t think so.”
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