NEW YORK: One of America’s top government scientists, Anthony Fauci, has issued an urgent plea for a change in US policy on the coronavirus, drawing a sharp rebuke from the Trump administration in the final days of a hard-fought election campaign.
Fauci, in an interview in the Washington Post on Sunday, warned that the United States is headed for “a whole lot of hurt” unless it makes an “abrupt change” in health practices.
With many Americans ignoring safe practices and many hospitals already under severe strain as cold weather and the flu season arrive, “You could not possibly be positioned more poorly,” Fauci said. “It’s not a good situation.”
The virus has claimed more than 230,000 lives in the US, which last week suffered record high numbers of cases — hitting 98,000 on Friday.
Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, offered a scathing response to Fauci.
“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,” he said in a statement.
He lashed into Fauci for “choosing to criticize the president in the media and make his political leanings known by praising the president’s opponent.”
Trump, keeping up a frenetic pace of campaigning against Democratic challenger Joe Biden, has insisted the country is “rounding the turn” on the virus, and has even alleged — without any evidence — that many doctors are inflating virus death tolls for profit.
“I mean, our doctors are very smart people,” Trump said at a rally Friday in Michigan. “So what they do is they say, ‘I’m sorry but everybody dies of Covid.'”
He suggested, again without evidence, that doctors can bill more in that case.
Fauci, a top member of the White House coronavirus task force, once briefed Trump on the virus almost daily but said the president no longer seeks his advice.
In contrast, Fauci had positive things to say about Biden.
The former vice president’s campaign, he told the Post, “is taking it seriously from a public health perspective.”
In mid-October, during a telephone conference call, Trump called Fauci a “disaster.”
The latest row came as one of Trump’s new favored coronavirus advisors, Scott Atlas — whose expertise in epidemiology is heavily disputed by the scientific and public health community — drew fresh controversy Sunday after he gave an interview to Russian state-controlled TV channel RT.
In a tweet Atlas said he was “unaware they are a registered foreign agent.”
“I regret doing the interview and apologize for allowing myself to be taken advantage of. I especially apologize to the national security community who is working hard to defend us,” he wrote.