NEW YORK (1010 WINS) -- Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is the nation's go-to authority on the coronavirus pandemic -- but that doesn't mean it's all lab coats and face masks for the native New Yorker.
In an interview with 1010 WINS' Larry Mullins Friday afternoon, Fauci, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, spoke about blowing the first pitch at the Yankees-Nationals game Thursday, his reaction to being an InStyle magazine cover boy -- and if a Fauci reality show is a possibility.
But that was the lighter side of the affable Fauci: He of course addressed what Americans can expect from the pandemic, if we're done with a first wave, if tri-state parents can feel safe sending their children to school, and a lot more:
For starters, baseball fans got to see a world class ace pitcher do his thing last night at the start of the Yankees game against the Washington Nationals. How do you rate your performance last night?
Oh my goodness, I bounced it. The mound looked like it was 150 feet away from the plate. It looks much further when you’re up there, that’s for sure.
I hear the Tops card company is talking about a deal with you though, what do you think?
I don’t think that’s gonna happen!
Also, one of my producers wants to know if you’re still wearing that Nationals face mask, considering your home team, the Yanks, won it 4-1, doctor.
You did, you did, I’m still wearing the Washington Nats (mask). I’m an avid Nats fan, I love New York City, but I love my Nats baseball team.
Okay, we’ll leave it at that. On a serious note how are you doing, sir? I understand you and your family have been getting threats now. Why do you suppose people are angry with you?
Well you know there is a big divisiveness in the country about politicizing this response to the COVID outbreak, where people feel that some of the public health measures that I’ve been advocating, which are purely for the purpose of preserving the health and safety of the American people, are interfering with their lives. They don’t want to be told what to do and they get very hostile about it, and it’s just extraordinary. I was quite surprised and taken aback by the amount of threats, not only against me, but my family, my wife and my daughters.
Are these death threats?
Well, yeah, it’s death threats to me, and inappropriate harassing of my wife and my children. They’re getting, they know what their phone numbers (are), they know where they work, because everything seems to be public, and they harass them. It’s very unsettling.
I know you have extra security and all. Be careful with that sir, be very careful with that. We all know that the race is on now to come up with the vaccine and we’ve heard various timetables for when we might see one: late this year, early next year. But when we keep hearing phrases like “fast-track” and “warp-speed,” Dr. Fauci, is there such a thing as moving too fast to come up with the vaccine? Some people are already saying they don’t want to be the first to get this shot.
Yeah, I think it was maybe unfortunate to use the terminology “Operation Warp Speed,” because it does sort of subliminally suggest you're going too fast. But I can tell you, the speed is really on the basis of really impressive technological advances that allow us to do things with the development of a vaccine in a matter of weeks to months that formerly took years. So it’s not compromising safety and it’s not compromising scientific integrity. What it is is doing some financial risking. In other words, generally starting to make the vaccine doses even before you've shown that it works, rather than waiting until you show it works, you could simultaneously do both. And if it doesn’t work, no one is going to give the vaccine to anyone if it isn’t safe and it isn't effective.
So let’s talk about that. Knowing how these diseases mutate, what is your level of concern that even if we come up with a vaccine it might be rendered less effective, or worse, obsolete even before the thing gets out of the box?
You know, that’s always a remote possibility, but a really, truly remote possibility because although viruses, particularly RNA viruses, which is what the coronavirus is, can mutate, most of the time, the mutations have nothing to do with the function of the virus or have anything to do with changing the protective nature of a vaccine. That's something we watch out for, but it’s extremely unlikely that that will happen. But it’s not something we don’t pay attention to. So people should feel comfort that we’re really all over that. We’ve got that. We understand that, and we’re not going to give a vaccine that doesn’t work and is not safe.
In the interim we’ve been told that a face covering and social distancing is the key to flattening the curve. But as we’ve seen in some states, and even here, particularly amongst some of the young people, not everybody is heeding that advice. That said, give us the picture of how big and wide a second wave could be if this nonchalant attitude keeps up, doctor. What percentage?
I’ve gotta tell you something that we need to appreciate. People keep talking about a second wave. We’re in the middle of the first wave. You only talk about a second wave after you’ve gotten over the first wave and you’ve gone down to baseline, and then you might have a second wave. I think we next to focus, right now, on getting under control the outbreaks that are still going on in this country. I mean if you look at our baseline of cases, it was hanging around 20,000 a day until over the last couple of weeks, it’s gone up to 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70,000 cases per day. So we’re knee-deep in it. New York City, which got hit really badly, you guys got hit bad, but you’ve come down to a good baseline, and right now you're trying to open up the country as it were, in this case opening up New York. But you're doing it in a safe way. We don’t like to see people at bars congregating without masks. That’s the reason why we recommend very strongly, because we want to make sure that New York stays down at baseline and doesn’t come back up.
I want to talk about another topic, though, that’s burning on everybody’s minds. School. How to get it back, how to start back up, how to send the kids back. Many teachers, principals, cafeteria workers, even janitors want to know, does it make sense to send a bunch of kids and adults back to school this fall without a vaccine? I mean, we won’t even let them go to school without a measles shot, doc.
Well, here’s the important thing. We need to realize that the default is that we should try as best as we possibly can to safely, namely the safety and the health of the children and the teachers, to get kids back to school. Because the downstream unintended ripple effect consequences of keeping children at home and not in school is really sometimes negative. Families, working families, need to stop working to take care of their children. It has an impact on the psychological aspects of kids. So we need to try. Having said that, we must pay attention in a very, very clear way, to the safety and health of the children. And if, in the place where you are, the level of infection is low enough where you can do this safely, you should attempt to do it. Namely, if you have to make some physical separation, wearing of masks, rotating of schedules, the school superintendents and the principals have the capability of making those decisions. So you don't want to risk safety, but you want to try to get the kids back to school.
So Dr. Fauci, I’m a 30-year-old mom, I’ve got a 1-year-old kid, or I’ve got a 6-year-old kid headed into first grade. Are you comfortable, would you be comfortable sending your kids back to school, or your grandkids? In New York or New Jersey?
Well it depends on where you are. I mean, right now, if you are in a county or in a location where the level of infection is so low that it really is minimal, then you can probably be reasonably comfortable in sending the child back. If the level of infection is high enough, as to be a serious risk to the children, then I would consider not sending them back.
Let’s move onto Washington now. President Trump rebooted the coronavirus briefings this week. This, as the U.S. has surpassed more than 4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19. It doesn’t go unnoticed that you nor Dr. Deborah Birx were at any of these briefings. But he has said that he’s getting his information from you all prior to the briefings. Have you personally spoken with the president and are you counseling him before these briefings?
Yeah. Well, I spoke to him a couple of days, in fact, a couple of days before the briefing, and maybe about an hour and a half before his second briefing. Not his third briefing, before his second briefing.
So how much of that information you’re giving is he actually using, and is he doing a good job of guiding us through this, in your opinion?
Well, you know, things are changing and I think everyone who’s paying attention to this noticed. Notice the president is talking about wearing a mask. Notice the resident is talking about avoiding congregated crowds. Notice the president has canceled the convention, in the sense of the kind of crowds that you would have. So he’s saying things now that are really in line with what we’ve been recommending.
But doc, what of the argument, and we’re hearing from people on Twitter who are going, “It’s staging. It’s an election year.” Would you not do that to get into the good graces of the voters, no?
Well, you know you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t, because if you don’t do it, they tell you you’re doing the wrong thing, and if you do it, they say you’re doing it because you want to get elected. I think we need to focus purely on the public health aspects, and try as best as we can to get away from the political discussions, and the political dialogues. We’re trying to end the pandemic, and we need to do it together. And the way you do it is what we’ve been talking about. You wear masks, you avoid crowds, you keep physical distance, you close the bars, when the bars are being the seeding places of the outbreak, and you practice personal hygiene, washing your hands as often as you can. We've got to put the political stuff aside. That’s noise in the way of what we’re trying to do to end this pandemic.
I have to ask you though, have you heard from former Vice President Joe Biden’s camp, and are they seeking your counsel as well regarding the coronavirus?
You know, I think that they are experienced enough to know that I’m in a very difficult position. Right now I’m on the White House coronavirus task force. And I think they know better. I know the individuals. I’ve worked with them over decades, but they’re not putting me in the sensitive position of having to deal with that. They get enough good advice from very competent people.
You have said, and President Trump has said, that you two have a very good relationship. Are you referring to a cordial, gentlemanly demeanor in passing in the hall, or a working relationship? Because if it’s the latter, doc, we’re not seeing it, considering all the attacks and Op-Eds and tweets from the White House. This is New York, and we see smoke. Can you tell us, definitively, what’s really going on down there?
Well, I’m a New Yorker myself and i know what smoke is, so don’t worry about that. My personal relationship with the president is a good relationship. Yes, there have been some disturbing things that have come out of the White House. That editorial by the trade advisor, it was completely inappropriate, and the wrong thing to do, and the idea about putting out the little notes about things I’ve done wrong is inappropriate, and the wrong thing to do, and I don’t hesitate for a minute to say that. However, my relationship with the president is a good relationship.
Let me ask you this now, and you tell me if I’m off-limits. With what you’ve seen thus far with this president, leading us out of this chaos, do you think that is possible? Do you think he is capable, using the information that you’re giving him?
Well right now what we’re seeing is a real serious look, and wasn’t always that way. I mean, there were some mixed messages in the beginning, but right now what we’re seeing, what I’m seeing, we’re out there, I’m out there, Dr. Birx is out there, Dr. Redfield is out there. We’re talking about what we need to do to get out of this pandemic. So listen to what we’re saying, because it really is based on sound, public health principles.
Now talk about New York and New Jersey. You mentioned it earlier. Are we doing it right? Because we’re taking your advice.
Well, you know I have a special feeling in my heart for New York City and the New York metropolitan area. That’s where I was born and raised. That’s where my parents were born and raised. In the beginning, New York had some problems. They got hit badly, and they got hit early, so they made some mistakes. But when you’re dealing with something that’s a novel experience, you’re not going to do everything perfect. But what New York did do successfully, they brought the cases way down. Hospitalizations way down. Deaths, way down. So in that respect, they did it right. And I know that Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio are doing everything they can to keep those numbers down. So in that respect, are you now doing it right? Absolutely.
One final note. I see you made the (digital) cover of InStyle Magazine for September. Is that the “Sexiest Man Alive” edition?
Oh my goodness, I was so embarrassed that they put me on the cover. I saw that, I almost fainted. Goodness gracious. They told me it was going to be a simple interview with my wife and I. And then they had me on the cover there with sunglasses on. It was totally embarrassing.
How does it feel to be a rockstar? Could we see an Anthony Fauci reality show in all of this?
Absolutely not. You can count on that.