Fauci said partisan fights over mask-wearing hurt the US virus response, and that it never should have hit 500,000 virus deaths

  • Dr Anthony Fauci said that political feuds over masks badly hurt the US response.
  • He said the US, “a rich and sophisticated country,” should never have got to 500,000 deaths.
  • “When the American spirit is so divided, that really, really made me sad,” he told Reuters.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Infectious-diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci said political polarization over mask-wearing badly hurt the pandemic response in the US, and that the country should never have reached 500,000 deaths from COVID-19.

In an interview with Reuters, the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden expressed his frustration at what he saw as missteps in the country’s approach to controlling the virus. 

Political feuds over masking in an already-divided country were a major factor, he told the news agency. “Even under the best of circumstances, this would have been a very serious problem,” said Fauci.

“However, that does not explain how a rich and sophisticated country can have the most percentage of deaths and be the hardest-hit country in the world,” he continued. “That I believe should not have happened.”

The US hit the somber milestone of half a million deaths from COVID-19 on Monday, a figure that Biden marked with a speech and a candle-lighting ceremony at the White House. Although the US does not have the worst death toll per capita, it is by a wide margin the country with the largest number of deaths. 

Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also served on former President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 task force as the pandemic pummeled the US. 

His time working under the Trump administration was marked by repeated attempts to discredit him. In July last year, the White House circulated a list of purported mistakes by Fauci, and a Trump advisor said that he was “wrong about everything.”

Over the course of the pandemic, anti-mask fervor on the political right reached boiling point, in part due to Trump’s divisiveness, as Insider’s Ashley Collman reported. 

That has run from public protests in supermarkets to conflicts in top political circles. For example, pro-Trump Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene reportedly caused a “screaming match” in January as she refused to wear a mask at her swearing-in.

Fauci told Reuters that the death toll could not all be blamed on Trump. Nonetheless, he said, “the lack of involvement at the very top of the leadership in trying to do everything that was science-based was clearly detrimental to the effort.”

Trump was keen to downplay the virus early on, and refused to issue a national mask mandate.

By October, Trump rarely met with the task force, preferring to receive updates from then-Vice President Mike Pence and anti-lockdown advocate Dr Scott Atlas. 

Decisions made at the local and state level, to ignore the task force’s recommendations for phased reopening of the economy, were also deeply frustrating, Fauci said. This was “incomprehensible,” he said, when “you could see right in front of your eyes what was happening.”

In April, as the virus’ first wave was reducing, the Trump administration ignored numerous CDC recommendations in its plan to reopen the country. 

“When the American spirit is so divided, that really, really made me sad,” he told the outlet.

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