I had to think twice about writing this story.
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After all, since the beginning of Donald Trump’s daily coronavirus pandemic briefings/campaign rallies the only consistent voice of credibility, reason, and unspun scientific knowledge regularly heard has been that of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has learned how to gently contradict the constantly spewing misinformation launched from the mouth of the medically-illiterate president without appearing to criticize or attack the insecure and vindictive Trump.
The only reasonable explanation for Dr. Fauci’s continued presence at the press conferences is that the president isn’t quite aware of how seriously the infectious disease specialist’s messages are undermining his own already-minimal credibility as he delivers the truth about the false hope Trump is peddling through his advocacy of drugs untested for their efficacy and safety as cures or prophylactics for COVID-19 infections.
One does not want to upset this delicate balancing act.
During the few press briefings that Dr. Fauci has not attended in the past weeks, speculation was rampant that the president had jettisoned the bluntly and unsparingly honest scientist because of the cognitive dissonance that his straight talk was inspiring in the public when combined with the mixed messages of misrepresentation being delivered by Trump himself.
When Dr. Fauci would return to the podium the next day, there was practically a collective sigh of relief simultaneously exhaled across the country as we realized that we would hear — unfiltered and unspun — actual informed knowledge about our current situation.
In an appearance on CBS‘s Face the Nation today, however, Dr. Fauci came perilously close to calling Donald Trump a liar on national television, albeit indirectly, sparking fears that he may have finally crossed a line that the notoriously intolerant president would not accept.
After all, Trump — who has rated his own response to the pandemic a perfect 10 out of 10 — famously stated in a televised interview with CNBC on January 22nd about the then still new pandemic:
“We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
This morning Dr. Fauci plainly said that any attempts to characterize the government as having the COVID-19 outbreak as under control would be “a false statement.” His own description of where we are in the battle against the pandemic was more realistic, if not fatalistic.
“We are struggling to get it under control, and that’s the issue that’s at hand right now,” Fauci said on Face the Nation.
Dr. Fauci echoed the admission that Trump was forced to make at yesterday afternoon’s briefing, sprinkled among the false hope of unproven treatments and his insistence that the country reopens as soon as possible, that “there will be a lot of death” in the weeks ahead.
Speaking of the situation in New York, one of the hardest-hit epicenters of the disease in the U.S., Fauci said:
“This next week is going to look bad because we’re still not at that apex. Within a week, eight, nine days or so we’re hopefully going to see that turning around.”
Dr. Fauci also implicitly criticized the president’s failure to institute a nationwide stay-at-home order when he was asked about the wisdom of the eight states — Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina, Utah, and Wyoming — that have yet to impose such orders and the risks they were posing to the rest of the country.
“It isn’t that they’re putting the rest of the country at risk as much as they’re putting themselves at risk,” Fauci replied. “Every time I get to that podium in the White House briefing room, I plead with people to take a look at those very simple guidelines of physical separation.”
Those people outside of major urban centers shouldn’t be lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that the coronavirus may not have reached their community yet, the infectious disease expert warned.
“Sooner or later, you’re going to see a surge of cases,” Dr. Fauci cautioned.
Despite his anticipation of the next week bringing death tolls that will be “shocking to some,” Dr. Fauci said that everyone should “continue to mitigate, continue to do the physical separation because we’ve got to get through this week that’s coming up.”
With the one rational and trustworthy, if not blindly optimistic, voice still participating in Trump’s daily press briefings, let’s hope that Dr. Fauci’s blunt assessments this morning and his clear contradiction of the president’s characterizations of his administration’s response won’t push Trump’s buttons enough to push him to jettison the only fully credible member of his pandemic response task force.
You can watch clips of Dr. Fauci’s appearance on CBS‘s Face the Nation in the videos below.
“I will not say we have it under control, we are struggling to get it under control,” but notes that mitigation is showing some success in places like New York. pic.twitter.com/DgrkLWxmrB
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) April 5, 2020
Are some states putting residents at risk with no stay-at-home orders? @NIAIDNews’ Dr. Anthony Fauci underscores the importance of #socialdistancing: “I plead with people to look at those very simple guidelines of physical separation” pic.twitter.com/oaxEY9D6ky
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) April 5, 2020
Original reporting by Zack Budryk at The Hill.