July 14, 2020 -- White House officials are telling news outlets that they’re “concerned” about previous statements that Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has made during the coronavirus pandemic.
Fauci, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, was a featured speaker at many of the daily coronavirus press briefings at the beginning of the pandemic. During the past month, however, he’s spoken out about the shortcomings of the U.S. coronavirus response and warned about consequences of reopening states too soon and people not following social distancing guidelines or wearing face masks.
Now the Trump administration is sowing seeds of doubt. A White House official told NBC News on Sunday that “several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things.” The official then provided a list of a dozen past comments made at the beginning of the pandemic.
The list includes comments from January that the coronavirus was “not a major threat” and “not driven by asymptomatic carriers,” according to NBC News, and a comment in March that “people should not be walking around with masks.”
At that time, these same comments were echoed by President Donald Trump, senior White House officials and other members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. As scientific knowledge about the virus changed, so did statements by the country’s top scientists. Since then, Fauci has spoken many times about the seriousness of the pandemic, the unique asymptomatic spread seen with the coronavirus and the need to wear face masks in public.
“When you learn more, you change those recommendations,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams, also a member of the task force, told CBS News on Sunday. “Our recommendations have changed.”
Fauci declined to comment on the White House’s statements, NBC News reported, and the White House declined to provide additional comments on Sunday.
However, the split has been made clear, according to The Washington Post. White House communications officials are required to approve television appearances related to the coronavirus, and there have been back-and-forth restrictions. The White House has approved some appearances and not others, and after Fauci joined a Facebook Live event last week that disputed some of Trump’s claims, several scheduled appearances were canceled.
“Our bigger issue with Fauci is stop critiquing the task force … and try to fix it,” an official told the newspaper.
The move to discredit Fauci comes as coronavirus cases surge nationwide, which White House officials have said is a result of increased testing rather than increased infections. Many public health officials, however, have said the White House is wrong about that.
On Friday, the U.S. reported 70,000 new daily cases, marking a record nationwide, and on Sunday, Florida reported 15,000 new daily cases, also making a record for the most that any state has reported in one day so far during the pandemic.
At the same time, public health officials and national experts have jumped to Fauci’s defense and supported his thoughts about the troubling increase in cases.
“What he cares most about is not his influence, but what’s happening — that things are going so badly and it’s going to cause so much disease and death,” David Barr, an HIV/AIDS activist who has known Fauci for 30 years, told the newspaper.
White House officials have begun to approve more media appearances for Deborah Birx, MD, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, the newspaper reported. The administration is also asking Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary of health for the Department of Health and Human Services, and Peter Gaynor, the FEMA administrator, to do more coronavirus-related appearances.