The US should prepare for “a whole lot of hurt” under the coronavirus pandemic, senior public health expert Anthony Fauci said, predicting a winter of 100,000 or more cases a day and a rising death toll.
“We’re in for a whole lot of hurt,” Fauci told the Washington Post in a hard-hitting interview published on Saturday night, three days out from election day, immediately angering the Trump White House.
“It’s not a good situation. All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.”
More than 9.1m cases of Covid-19 have been recorded in the US and more than 230,000 people have died. Daily case counts vary but agree that on Friday the US set a world record for cases in a single day, between 99,000 and 100,000, as numbers surge in several states, many of them electoral battlegrounds key to control of the White House. On Saturday, Johns Hopkins University reported more than 81,000 new cases. There were 862 deaths, down from more than 1,000 the day before.
Donald Trump, recently recovered from the virus himself, continues to campaign for re-election, staging rallies at which mitigation strategies such as mask-wearing and social distancing are not observed and regularly claiming the US is “rounding the corner”. On Friday he made the baseless claim that doctors were rewarded financially if people died of Covid.
His challenger, Joe Biden, who leads most national and battleground state polls, is staging fewer events and observing Covid protocols.
Trump has charged that Biden is “hiding” and regularly mocked his opponent for wearing a mask. On Sunday, campaign adviser Anita Dunn told CNN’s State of the Union that since March, “what Vice-President Biden has done is basically why he’s got in this race, he showed people what a responsible president does and how a responsible president acts.”
Fauci told the Post Biden was “taking it seriously from a public health perspective”. Trump, he said, was “looking at it from a different perspective … the economy and reopening the country.”
Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, told the Post Trump “always put the well-being of the American people first”, and added: “It’s unacceptable and breaking with all norms for Dr Fauci, a senior member of the president’s coronavirus taskforce and someone who has praised President Trump’s actions throughout this pandemic, to choose three days before an election to play politics.”
In fact Fauci has often clashed with Trump, and recently complained about comments being used out of context in a campaign commercial.
Fauci, 79, has been director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, serving six presidents. He is immensely popular with the public and largely seen as safe from being fired. But the Post also reported that “at one point during the interview, Fauci said he needed to be careful with his words because he would be blocked from doing appearances in the future”.
Deere said that “as a member of the Task Force, Dr Fauci has a duty to express concerns or push for a change in strategy, but he’s not done that, instead choosing to criticise the president in the media and make his political leanings known by praising the president’s opponent – exactly what the American people have come to expect from the Swamp.”
Public records show Fauci is not registered as a Democrat or a Republican.
“The Swamp” is Trump campaign speak for Washington, supposedly a den of “deep state” bureaucrats and intelligence officials dedicated to thwarting the president and feathering their own nests. Trump’s former campaign manager, Steve Bannon, a key propagator of the deep state theory now indicted for fraud, has said it is “for nut cases”.
Speaking to the Post, Fauci was critical of a controversial outsider brought into the coronavirus taskforce by Trump. Scott Atlas, a Stanford neuroradiologist and Fox News contributor, favours ending public health restrictions and pursuing “herd immunity”.
“I have real problems with that guy,” Fauci said. “He’s a smart guy who’s talking about things that I believe he doesn’t have any real insight or knowledge or experience in. He keeps talking about things that when you dissect it out and parse it out, it doesn’t make any sense.”
On Saturday, Atlas promoted an interview with RT – a Kremlin-controlled TV channel which spreads disinformation. “Lockdowns, facts, frauds,” he tweeted. “If you can’t handle truth, use a mask to cover your eyes and ears.” On Sunday he apologised for the interview, saying he was unaware RT was “a registered foreign agent”.
Fauci also said: “Right now, the public health aspect of the [White House] taskforce has diminished greatly … the last time I spoke to the president was not about any policy. It was when he was recovering in Walter Reed, he called me up.”
Fauci said he called into meetings but largely avoided the White House because “of all the infections there”. After an event for supreme court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on 26 September, cases proliferated among the Trump family, senior aides and top Republicans. Last weekend, senior aides to Vice-President Mike Pence were infected.
Fauci also addressed controversial remarks last weekend by White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who said the administration was not going to control the pandemic.
“I tip my hat to him for admitting the strategy,” he said. “He is straightforward in telling you what’s on his mind. I commend him for that.”