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Chief White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci on Tuesday said he should have been “much more careful” in his messaging on COVID-19 early on in the pandemic, including doing a better job of conveying the uncertainty present at that time.
Fauci, who will be stepping down from government work in December, reflected on the first months of the coronavirus outbreak while speaking at a seminar hosted by the University of Southern California’s Center for Health Journalism. The longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases spoke with Washington Post national health reporter Dan Diamond.
Diamond asked Fauci if there was anything he wished he would have done differently throughout the pandemic given the risk for information becoming “gobbled” by social media, as Fauci put it.
“You know, the answer is yes, Dan. I mean, my goodness, no one’s perfect. Certainly I am not,” Fauci said.
“When I go back in the early months, I probably should have tried to be much, much more careful in getting the message to repeat — the uncertainty of what we’re going through,” Fauci said.
He recalled how in the very early days in the pandemic, he had advised that lifestyle changes were not necessary at the time when cases were extremely low, while also adding the caveat that conditions could “change rapidly and we need to be prepared.”
Fauci bemoaned that the only remarks that were “thrown back” at him from that time were his recommendations that things did not have to change.
“Well, as a matter of fact, that was true. But if you wanted to say — if we knew then that this virus under the radar screen was transmitting in a way that was not fully appreciated and any of us would have said, ‘Hey, you know, we’ve had five cases in the country. We need to shut down.’ People would have looked at us like we were crazy,” he said.
Diamond noted President Biden’s recent remarks in which he said the “pandemic is over,” while also adding “we still have a problem with COVID,” as a possible example of the selective recall that Fauci had issue with.
“You have to be very careful,” Fauci said when it came to messaging. “It is really unfortunate, that that’s the world in which we live, in that it’s a bunch of sound bites, sound bites that sometimes get cut in half and get misinterpreted.”
“Someone could always make mischief by clipping out a few words,” he said.
Over the course of the pandemic, GOP lawmakers — and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) in particular — have pounced on what they view as contradictory, or false statements coming from Fauci.
Republicans have vowed to carry out more hearings into him despite his exit from the government should they retake the House or Senate in the upcoming midterms.
Diamond asked Fauci if he would sit for investigations next year if he was called by a Republican-controlled committee.
“Of course, I have no problem. I am a big believer in oversight, and I have testified before Congress literally hundreds of times,” Fauci responded.
He had previously expressed his willingness to come back before Congress, telling CNN in August, “I have nothing to hide and I can defend everything I’ve done.”
Updated at 4:56 p.m.