Top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci acknowledged on Sunday that there was a “lot of pushback” early on by the Trump administration on initiating social-distancing restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus, noting that “no one is going to deny” that lives could’ve been saved if they had acted earlier.
Following The New York Times reporting that Fauci and other top officials attempted to get President Donald Trump to implement closures and physical distancing guidelines back in February, only for the president to resist for nearly a month, State of the Union anchor Jake Tapper asked Fauci why the president was hesitant.
“You know, Jake, as I’ve said many times, we look at it from a pure health standpoint,” the White House coronavirus task force member replied. “We make a recommendation. Often the recommendation is taken. Sometimes it’s not. But it is what it is. We are where we are right now.”
Tapper, meanwhile, questioned whether lives could have been saved if social-distancing restrictions had been put in place in February as opposed to mid-March when the president finally announced the administration’s recommendations.
“It’s very difficult to go back and say that. I mean, obviously you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives,” Fauci replied. “Obviously no one is going to deny that.”
“But what goes into those kinds of decisions is complicated,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases continued. “But you’re right, I mean, obviously, if we had right from the very beginning shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different. But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then.”
As of publication, per the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, nearly 21,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus and the United States has over 530,000 confirmed cases, by far the most in the world.
While Fauci acknowledged that earlier mitigation likely would have saved American lives, he pushed back when Tapper compared South Korea’s response to the pandemic to the United States’, considering both countries announced their first cases at the same time.
“If you take a look at where we are right now in the U.S., the U.S. now has 50 times more cases, and almost 100 times more fatalities than South Korea,” the CNN anchor stated. “Meanwhile, while the U.S. makes up only about 4.25 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has 30 percent of the world’s reported coronavirus cases and almost 20 percent of the reported coronavirus deaths. [CNN medical correspondent] Sanjay Gupta says this is all because we got started too late in the U.S.; is that right, do you agree?”
Saying that it was obvious that doing something earlier would have had an impact in America, Fauci said it was still “unfair” to compare the two countries due to a number of facts, such as size, population, and homogeneity.
“So obviously, it would have been nice if we had a better head start,” he added. “But I don’t think you can say we are where we are because of one factor. It’s very complicated, Jake.”
As for whether he thinks the country can be reopened next month, as the president is aggressively pushing for, Fauci was diplomatically cautious.
“You want to make sure you don’t do something prematurely and precipitously, at the same time you pay attention to the need to try and get back to normal,” he said, adding: “We are hoping by the end of the month we can look around and say, ‘Okay, is there any element here that we can safely and cautiously start pulling back on?’ If so, do it. If not, then just continue to hunker down.”