Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top public health official, said President Donald Trump has followed his advice about advising lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic, clarifying recent comments that were taken in some circles as criticism of the president.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was asked during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” on April 12 whether “lives could have been saved” if the federal government recommended social distancing measures starting in February, instead of March.
Fauci responded: “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. Obviously, no one is going to deny that.
“But what goes into those kinds of decisions is—is complicated. 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.”
A number of outlets took the comments as criticism of Trump, prompting Fauci to clarify them during the White House coronavirus task force meeting on April 13.
“I was asked a hypothetical question. Hypothetical questions sometimes can get you into some difficulty because it’s what would have or could have,” Fauci told reporters in Washington.
While earlier mitigation would have been helpful, Fauci said he wasn’t trying to imply that someone was at fault.
He said Trump has listened the five times Fauci and other health officials have made strong recommendations—once in March for social distancing measures, again in April when they recommended an extension of the measures, and the three times they recommended travel bans, including the January ban on most travel from China.
Despite concern from others about possible negative consequences of the decisions, Trump made all five recommended orders, Fauci said.
“Obviously there would be concern by some that in fact that might have some negative consequences. Nonetheless, the president listened to the recommendation and went to the mitigation,” he said, referring to a March conversation between him, Trump, and Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator of the task force.
When Fauci and Birx approached Trump and said the original 15 days weren’t enough, Trump listened.
“There were people who had a problem with that because of the potential secondary effects. Nonetheless, at that time, the president went with the health recommendations and we extended it another 30 days,” the doctor said.
Pressed on his statement that there was “a lot of pushback about shutting things down,” Fauci said he used “a poor choice of words.”
“It wasn’t anybody saying, no you shouldn’t do that,” he said, before reacting strongly when a reporter asked if he was making the statement “voluntarily.”
“Everything I do is voluntarily. Please, don’t even imply that,” he told her.
The relationship between Fauci and Trump has been closely watched as some believe the president might dismiss the doctor. The White House earlier on April 13 stated that Trump wouldn’t be firing Fauci.
“Today I walk in and hear I’m going to fire him. I’m not firing him,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “I think he’s a wonderful guy.”