Dr. Anthony Fauci, while hailed as a hero by many for his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, has made several critical missteps that have undermined his own credibility and contributed to the deep divisions in the nation over the response to the virus.
Fauci, has, since March, engaged in a number of deliberate half-truths and distortions regarding public health that have likely had disastrous consequences for the public trust in scientific and medical expertise. The latest of these was just this week.
It all began in March, when the pandemic was first beginning to impact the country. Appearing on “60 Minutes” on March 8, Fauci attempted to reassure the public that wearing face coverings was not a very important public health measure and could even be counter productive.
“Right now, in the United States, people should not be walking around with masks,” Fauci confidently informed the interviewer Dr. Jon LaPook. Pressed for clarification, Fauci went on.
“There’s no reason to be walking around with a mask. When you’re in the middle of an outbreak, wearing a mask might make people feel a little bit better and it might even block a droplet, but it’s not providing the perfect protection that people think that it is. And, often, there are unintended consequences — people keep fiddling with the mask and they keep touching their face.”
Such statements are jarring based on what we know has been recommended in the time since. So why the big change? Was it an error based on inaccurate information? Did the good doctor feel any pang of regret for the misguided advice that could have led to increased disease spread early on?
Well, in his own words, no.
“I don’t regret anything I said then,” Fauci later told “60 Minutes” correspondent Norah O’Donnell in a July InStyle magazine interview. “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.”
In other words, Fauci knew masks worked, he just didn’t want the general public to have them before medical professionals. He knew supplies were low. So he lied. And he doesn’t regret it.
Rather than giving Americans the truth and making a plea to put healthcare workers first, Dr. Fauci made the decision that the people weren’t to be trusted with the information he had.
The same thing happened later in March in an interview with ABC’s Jonathan Karl, who asked the doc when we could expect our lives to return to normal.
“It’s going to be a matter of several weeks to a few months, for sure,” Fauci glibly told the host.
And a New York Times article this week about the level of vaccination that will be needed to achieve herd immunity noted that Dr. Fauci has slowly been raising his public estimate over time, from 60 to 70% to 70 to 75% and even now up to 75, 80, 85%.
So why the shift?
The country, Fauci told the Times in a phone interview, is finally ready to hear what he really thinks.
Once again, he has been withholding information from the public based on his own personal assessment of what the American people can handle. Likely, his intentions are noble. But easily discovered untruths do a disservice to the public health profession, and have doubtless led to the rampant distrust for the official guidance from government sources.
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