Oct. 5, 2022 – Anthony Fauci, MD, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said this week that he isn’t ready to say that we are nearing the end of COVID-19. But as a country, we seem to be on the right track, Fauci said during a virtual conversation for the University of Southern California’s Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.
“It’s obvious that [the president’s statement] could be problematic because people would interpret it as ‘it’s completely over and we’re done for good,’ which is not the case, no doubt about that,” Fauci said.
Instead, he interpreted the comment as a reference to the country’s improvement in case numbers and death rates over the last several months — that the worst is likely behind us.
Fauci, who has been the subject of harsh criticism for his public messaging, chooses his words carefully, even with the promise of a brighter future ahead.
“I think it would be cavalier to all of the sudden say we’re through with [COVID],” he said. “Because remember, we were going in the right direction in the summer of 2021, and along came Delta. Then in the winter, along came Omicron. And since then, we’ve had sublineages of Omicron.”
Especially as the winter months approach, Fauci said, precautions still need to be taken to reduce the chances of yet another spike. When asked about the precautions that he himself takes, Fauci explained that he still doesn’t go to indoor, sit-down dinners. He continues to attend receptions — noting that most of them are outdoors — without a mask on, but if he’s in an indoor setting “for a considerable period of time,” he keeps a mask on.
A large portion of the conversation also reflected on the lessons that can be learned from mixed messages delivered by public health experts, including Fauci, during both the COVID pandemic and the more recent developments in monkeypox.
“I have tried always to give the hard truth, but very often the hard truth is not heard under the circumstance under which it’s given,” Fauci said. He blames social media for the misrepresentation of public comments and the spread of misinformation for the overall lack of clarity that many have attributed to his and the CDC’s statements regarding COVID.
Fauci said that if he could go back and do certain things differently, he would. If he had the choice, he would have tried to be much more careful during the early months of the pandemic in underlining the uncertainty of the situation we were going through.
The major shortcoming the U.S. continues to face regarding the pandemic is the resistance to getting vaccinated and ultimately boosted for COVID, Fauci added. And when it comes to vaccines, he doesn’t see the message as polarizing.
“People say [I’m a] polarizing figure,” Fauci said. “Well, when I say we should get vaccinated because it saves lives, and someone says no, am I the polarizing figure? Or is the person who is saying something that’s completely untrue creating the polarization?”