Dr. Anthony Fauci says he doesn’t regret joining other the Trump administration’s other public health experts in advising Americans against wearing masks early on in the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an interview with CBS News anchor and 60 Minutes correspondent Norah O’Donnell published in InStyle magazine, Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, defended his credibility amid a steady stream of attacks on his expertise and trustworthiness from the White House.
In late February and early March as the COVID-19 outbreak began accelerating in the US, hospitals and health facilities experienced severe shortages of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers. In response, experts like Fauci and the US Surgeon General Jerome Adams advised Americans against wearing masks.
“I don’t regret anything I said then because in the context of the time in which I said it, it was correct. We were told in our task force meetings that we have a serious problem with the lack of PPEs and masks for the health providers who are putting themselves in harm’s way every day to take care of sick people,” Fauci told O’Donnell.
“When it became clear that we could get the infection could be spread by asymptomatic carriers who don’t know they’re infected, that made it very clear that we had to strongly recommend masks,” he said.
“And also, it soon became clear that we had enough protective equipment and that cloth masks and homemade masks were as good as masks that you would buy from surgical supply stores,” Fauci added. “So in the context of when we were not strongly recommending it, it was the correct thing.”
On Sunday, The Washington Post and The New York Times reported that the White House was actively trying to undermine Fauci’s messaging by restricting his media appearances on television and circulating an opposition-research-style document laying out various “mistakes” they said Fauci made at the beginning of the pandemic.
The Post reported that the “mistakes” the White House accused Fauci of making included downplaying the possibility of asymptomatic spread. In response, however, Fauci has said that he and other experts were operating based on the very limited information about the nature of the disease and the fast-moving trajectory of the outbreak in the US, saying, “our knowledge changed and our realization of the state of the outbreak changed.”
At a Monday afternoon press briefing, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany denied that the Trump administration had sent out “opposition research” to reporters.
“Fauci and the president have a good working relationship,” she said.
The Post also reported that in addition to Fauci and Trump not speaking at all since early June, Trump is “galled” by Fauci’s high approval ratings compared to his own extremely poor polling on his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even since McEnany’s briefing, Fauci has also been subject to attacks from the Trump administration’s top trade advisor Peter Navarro, who bypassed the White House’s approval process for publishing outside op-eds to publish a piece slamming Fauci as “wrong about everything I have interacted with him on” in USA Today.
Fauci told The Atlantic that Navarro, who has no infectious disease or public health expertise, is “in a world by himself.”