Dr. Anthony Fauci admitted in a new interview that the federal government “botched” part of its handling of COVID-19 and he blamed politics for interfering with a unified national response to the virus.
The 81-year-old retiring director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said that the government should have adopted commercial testing and recommended mask usage earlier in the pandemic. The flip-flopping on mask guidance came after scientists discovered the virus was being spread in the air largely by asymptomatic people.
“We didn’t know masks worked outside of the hospital setting. There was supposedly a shortage of good masks for the people who were taking care of individuals,” Fauci told Evan Smith, CEO of The Texas Tribune, on Thursday.
“Knowledgeable evidence and data evolves and as it evolves, you have to be flexible enough to change, and that’s what science is all about.”
Fauci said the choice to close schools was a “difficult decision,” but the learning loss suffered by the students was “worth it” to flatten the curve and save lives.
His comments came following a Department of Education report that school closures and virtual learning policies led to notable declines in students’ reading and math performance.
“It was a right decision at the time and it did have collateral consequences. No one can deny that keeping children out of school has a negative impact on the children,” the Brooklyn native said.
Fauci added that measures to shutter classrooms protected children and came at a time of high transmission and widespread death throughout much of the country.
“When there were no vaccines and the hospitals were getting overrun in New York and other places, you really needed to do something to put an abrupt stop to what was going on,” he added.
The fractured response on the state levels also frustrated Fauci, who said some measures were driven by politics, not science.
“We were having states that refused to recommend vaccines,” he said.
“When you needed to recognize that you’re dealing with a common enemy, at that same time to have such political divisiveness in the country is antithetical to a good public health response.”
The chief medical advisor to the last seven presidents said it was “uncomfortable” for him to have to publicly contradict former President Donald Trump’s claims that the virus could be treated with hydroxychloroquine or would “magically go away.”
“I’m not a political person. I’ve never been associated with any political party. I don’t have big strong ideologies, but I have become the boogieman for the far right,” Fauci said.
The immunologist also dismissed allegations from Republican lawmakers that he abused his power or lied during the pandemic, and said he would have “nothing to hide” in a potential investigation promised by GOP leaders if their party takes back the House in the midterm elections.
The director of the World Health Organization said last month that the end of the pandemic “was in sight,” while President Joe Biden declared it “over” this week. Fauci said he thought it was heading in the right direction thanks to “global immunity and vaccinations,” but cautioned that progress could still be turned on its head.
“We can’t declare victory until we get the level of transmission throughout the world so low that the chances of a new variant will be much less,” he said.
More than 10,000 people across the globe died last week from the coronavirus, adding to a total of six and a half million total fatalities, according to WHO statistics.