Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks at the White House on Mach 17.

Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks at the White House on Mach 17. Evan Vucci/AP

Anthony Fauci’s Plan to Stay Honest

He’s never seen a disease quite like COVID-19, nor has he ever worked for a president quite like Trump.

When Anthony Fauci returned my call the other day, he was standing outside the West Wing, on his way to a meeting of the coronavirus task force. He didn’t have much time to talk; he had 20 more phone calls to make, he told me. Getting a chair at the task-force meetings isn’t guaranteed. Even in the White House Situation Room, officials practice social distancing.

When Vice President Mike Pence arrives at the sessions, he checks to see whether people are squeezed too close together, putting one another at risk of infection. If they are, he “essentially kicks people out of the room, saying, ‘Hey, go to another room and tune in by teleconference,’” Fauci told me.

Many Americans seem to want Fauci to be in the room where decisions are being made. His candor has made him an instant icon. During White House press briefings, social-media users dissect his second-by-second facial expressions for clues as to what he’s thinking when President Donald Trump takes questions. Alarm spread among TV viewers when he missed a briefing the other day, giving rise to the hash tag #WheresFauci.

Whether he’s allowed to stay in the room, and for how long, is anyone’s guess. Trump doesn’t like to be upstaged. And speaking truths that clash with Trump’s message risks banishment and ridicule from the president. The 79-year-old Fauci, who is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has shown that he’s willing to do it anyway. As Trump touts an existing malaria drug as a potential treatment (“I’m probably more of a fan of that—maybe than anybody,” he said at a press briefing Friday), Fauci made plain that the drug’s effectiveness against the coronavirus is unproven.

“No. The answer is no,” Fauci, who was standing alongside Trump, said in response to a question about whether any evidence indicates that the drug might work. What evidence there is, he said, remains “anecdotal.”

Fauci has advised six presidents since he became the head of NIAID in 1984. But he’s never seen a disease quite like COVID-19, nor has he ever worked for a president quite like Trump. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.


Peter Nicholas: In your long career, have you ever seen a public-health crisis in the U.S. as serious as this one?

Anthony Fauci: No. What we have right now is something that’s very different and very acute and very threatening. And the reason people are getting anxiety about it—in some respects, appropriately so—is because it seems that no one is safe from this. It’s a diffuse respiratory illness that has a high degree of morbidity and mortality, particularly among certain vulnerable populations, like the elderly and those with underlying conditions. This is unprecedented. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve never seen anything like this.

If you go back—and I’ve been doing this for about 36 years, starting with the early years of HIV/AIDS—each of the outbreaks has a different flavor to them. Some are scary, but the reality is not that bad. Like Ebola—everyone got frightened by Ebola, but there really was no chance in the United States that we would have a diffuse outbreak of Ebola, because of the way Ebola spreads.

Nicholas: Was the U.S. adequately prepared for the pandemic?

Fauci: If you have an overwhelming pandemic, there’s almost no degree of preparedness that can prevent all the suffering and death. There are relative degrees of preparedness. And in that regard, [the U.S. leads] in the level of preparedness. But, obviously, as you can see [with] what is playing out right now, when you have something with the force of a pandemic, it appears that you are not well prepared.

Take the clock back a decade or so. [You could have said] We have 12,700 ventilators in the strategic national stockpile. Why not put 100,000 in there? There would not have been any enthusiasm on anybody’s part to spend that much money to do that. Now, retrospectively, when you look back, you say, Oh my God, why didn’t we put 100,000 ventilators in there?

It’s a dynamic situation, and people understandably want to know: Do we have enough? We don’t know. As more people require care and equipment, the system is stressed. So we have to do the best we possibly can. Hopefully that will be enough.

Nicholas: Have you felt pressure from the Trump administration to deliver a particular message about the coronavirus?

Fauci: No, they’ve not [pressured me]. [Laughs.] I’m not sure why.

I made up my mind a long time ago, Peter—and this goes back to the first time I had to speak the truth to Ronald Reagan about the seriousness of HIV/AIDS, when people were not paying attention to it. I was, like, the lone wolf out there: This is going to be big. We’ve got to do something about it.

I’m doing the same thing now. And my attitude is: I’m going to keep doing that. I don’t think they’re going to try to silence me. I think that would be foolish on their part. And I don’t even think they want to. I think, in some respects, they welcome my voice out there telling the truth. I’m going to keep doing it. And no matter what happens to me, I’m going to keep doing it.

Nicholas: How does Trump compare with other presidents with whom you’ve worked?

Fauci: He has a very unique style. But the thing that encourages me is that every time I’ve asked him to do something—cut out China travel, or go to the mitigation guidelines—he’s always ultimately listened to what I’ve said. When I’ve said, I really think we should do this, he’s never said no and overruled my recommendation. No matter what his style is, when it comes to the core of what gets done, thankfully, he has listened to me.

Nicholas: Are you taking steps to protect yourself and avoid infection?

Fauci: As best I can, yes. There are risks that some people need to take, because when it comes to the public health and the safety of the American people, sometimes you really have got to take some risks for yourself. Not everybody can shelter in place. But I try to do my best. I wash my hands 100 times a day. I don’t ever shake hands with anybody. And when I’m talking to somebody, I try to stay six feet away from them. So I am doing that. When I am not here [at work]—I’m going about 20 hours a day—I try to do my best.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.