Dr. Anthony Fauci is not happy with what he regards as the popular distortions of his pandemic record.
In a sprawling exit interview with New York Times reporter David Wallace-Wells, the outgoing director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — whose remit extended well beyond his station — makes little effort to hide his bitterness. Confronted with the criticism that so much of the public-health guidance in this period was less about epidemiology and more reflective of the Biden White House’s “economic, political, and social” priorities, Fauci bristled at the implication:
Certainly there could have been a better understanding of why people were emphasizing the economy. But when people say, “Fauci shut down the economy” — it wasn’t Fauci. The C.D.C. was the organization that made those recommendations. I happened to be perceived as the personification of the recommendations. But show me a school that I shut down and show me a factory that I shut down. Never. I never did. I gave a public-health recommendation that echoed the C.D.C.’s recommendation, and people made a decision based on that. But I never criticized the people who had to make the decisions one way or the other.
On a human level, Fauci’s irritations are understandable. He resents the suggestion that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could or even should behave like a political body, which is why it was absurd for the Biden White House to hold fast to the notion that Congress had provided the CDC with the authority to, for example, abrogate the rights of American property owners by implementing a moratorium on eviction.
That’s not Fauci’s fault exactly, but nor did the doctor register his dissatisfaction with the mid-pandemic status quo that so empowered him. We don’t have a document with Fauci’s signature on it authorizing the shuttering of schools and businesses. We do, however, have an extensive record of his public statements indicating that shuttering schools and businesses was the right course of action.
“If you have a situation where you don’t have a real good control over an outbreak and you allow children together, they will likely get infected,” Fauci warned in April 2020. The doctor proffered this definitive observation in response to a reporter who asked him if Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s decision to allow in-person education on school grounds was wise. “People under 25 have died of the coronavirus disease in the United States of America.” What conclusion would a school administrator who, like so much of the nation, hung on Fauci’s every word in the early stages of the pandemic take away from this admonition but that in-person education was an unnecessary risk?
As early as May of that year, Fauci all but ruled out the prospect of a safe return to schoolrooms the following autumn. “The idea of having treatments available, or a vaccination, to facilitate the reentry of students into the fall term would be something that would be a bit of a bridge too far,” he insisted.
That summer, Fauci engaged in a public-relations campaign with the aim of scaring young people into withdrawing from the outside world in areas of the country with high Covid-19 transmission rates. “You have a responsibility to yourself, because I think thinking that young people have no deleterious consequences is not true,” he scolded America’s youth. “We’re seeing more and more complications in young people.”