The United States’s top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci said that he and his family have required continued security following harassment and death threats from people angry over his guidance on the coronavirus pandemic.
“The unseemingly things that crises bring out in the world, it brings out the best of people and the worst of people, and getting death threats to my family and harassing my daughters to the point where I have to get security – it’s amazing,” Fauci said in an interview on Wednesday with CNN.
“I wouldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams that people who object to things that are pure public health principles are so set against it and don’t like what you and I say, namely in the world of science, that they actually threaten you,” he added.
Fauci has publicly contradicted President Donald Trump and his advisers on several occasions over the severity of the crisis in the country as well as US plans to reopen schools and the economy – provoking the frustration of a president who sees a resurgent economy as key to winning another four years in office.
In the early days of the coronavirus crisis, Trump was flanked in the White House briefing room by a team of public health experts in a seeming portrait of unity to confront the disease that was ravaging the globe.
But as the crisis has spread to all reaches of the country, with escalating deaths and little sense of an endgame, a chasm has widened between the president and health experts. The result: daily delivery of a mixed message to the public at a moment when coherence is most needed.
“There is a degree of anti-science feeling in this country, and I think it is not just related to science. It’s almost related to authority and a mistrust in authority that spills over,” Fauci said during the interview.
Trump and his political advisers insist that the US has no rival in its response to the pandemic. They point to the fact that the US has administered more virus tests than any other nation and that the percentage of deaths among those infected is among the lowest.
In an interview with Axios that aired on Monday, but was recorded last week, Trump said of the pandemic in the US, “It’s as under control as much as you can control it.”
But the surge in infections, hospitalisations and deaths tells a different story. And it suggests that the president is increasingly out of step with the federal government’s own medical and public health experts.
The US death toll, which stands at more than 158,000, is expected to accelerate. The latest composite forecast from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects an average of nearly 1,000 deaths per day through August 22.
Trump has suggested his frustration was spurred by his administration not receiving proper credit for testing so many people or for pushing to replenish the stockpile of ventilators early in the crisis. On Tuesday, he boasted that the US has increased testing capacity by 32,000 percent since March 12 and has “far and away the most testing capacity in the world”.
In early March he declared “anybody that needs a test gets a test”. Yet, in many parts of the country, it can still take a week or longer for patients to receive test results.
His positive self-evaluation gives short shrift to the fact that the US has the world’s fourth-highest per capita virus death rate, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus resource centre.
In the Axios interview, Trump insisted that the appropriate statistic to judge the virus response was the ratio of deaths to cases. By that metric, the US ranks 14th among the 20 countries most affected by COVID-19. Chile, India, Argentina, Russia, South Africa and Bangladesh all have lower rates of deaths to infections, according to the Johns Hopkins-compiled data.
And on Thursday, Trump said the US could possibly have a coronavirus vaccine before the November election, a far more optimistic forecast than that of health experts.
Fauci on Wednesday said drugmakers will likely have tens of millions of doses of vaccines available in the early part of next year.
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