dr Anthony Fauci on Tuesday reflected on the U.S. response to the Covid-19 pandemic in what may be his last public briefing as the nation’s top infectious disease expert.
Nearly three years after Covid-19 first arrived on America’s shores, Fauci said he never imagined the pandemic would last so long and claim so many lives.
“I didn’t envision, and I don’t think any of my colleagues envisioned, that we were going to see a three-year saga of suffering and death and a million Americans losing their lives,” Fauci, 81, told reporters during One Covid updates at the White House.
Fauci is stepping down as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in December after nearly 40 years at the helm and as senior White House medical adviser.
He said the most troubling feature of Covid is the development of multiple variants, which has turned the US response to the pandemic upside down on a number of occasions.
When challenged over mixed messages to the public about the virus in the early days of the pandemic, Fauci said public health officials were dealing with an evolving outbreak.
Public health guidance was changing because information about the virus was changing week-to-week and month-to-month, he said.
Health officials originally thought the virus spread from animals to humans, but later learned it spread very well between humans, Fauci said. It also later became clear that the virus was aerosolized and up to 60% of the people who spread it had no symptoms at all, he said.
“The recommendations are based on what you know in January through March, April and May — they will change,” Fauci said. “This understandably leads to a question from the public: Why are they constantly changing things?”
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Fauci said that one of the most difficult parts of the pandemic for him has been the politicization of public health under the Trump administration.
Noting that many people have refused to receive the Covid vaccine for ideological reasons, Fauci said: “As a doctor, it pains me because I don’t want to see anyone get infected, I don’t want to see anyone go to the hospital is brought in and I put it on I don’t want to see anyone die of Covid.”
“It makes no difference to me whether you’re a far-right Republican or a far-left Democrat,” he said. “I see it the same way I did in the emergency room in downtown New York City, when I was tending to everyone who came off the street.”
Although the number of deaths from Covid has dropped drastically, the virus still kills more than 300 people a day on average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public health officials said those dying are mostly the elderly or other vulnerable people who are not up to date with their vaccines or are not receiving treatment after breakthrough infections.
Fauci urged Americans to get a Covid booster to protect their health from another expected surge in infections this winter as people travel and gather for the holidays.
For decades, Fauci was respected on both sides of the political aisle, but he became a lightning rod for many conservatives as the response to the pandemic under former President Donald Trump became increasingly politicized.
House Republicans, who now have a majority after the midterm elections, have promised to launch an investigation into the origins of the pandemic and invite Fauci to testify.
Fauci said Tuesday he will fully cooperate: “If there are any oversight hearings, I will certainly fully cooperate and testify before Congress.” I have no problem testifying – we can defend and explain anything we said.”