Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, on Tuesday acknowledged he should have been more cautious with his COVID-19 messaging as he helped steer the country through the pandemic.
“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 told The Washington Post’s Dan Diamond in a conversation hosted by the Center for Health Journalism at USC’s Annenberg School.
Fauci remembered saying early in the pandemic, when there were only a handful of cases in the U.S., that people didn’t have to alter their way of life. He should have emphasized that the situation “could change rapidly and we need to be prepared,” he said, and critics later seized on his failure to assail him.
Asked if health experts should tailor their public comments to anticipate that their words will be reduced to tiny sound bites “that might stick with people,” Fauci said: “You have to be very careful and think about what your words are.”
“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,” Fauci said.
“Someone could always make mischief by clipping out a few words,” he added.
Fauci also spoke on the current state of the pandemic in the U.S.
“I don’t think we can say the end, being no more COVID, is in sight,” Fauci said.
As of Tuesday, the average number of daily COVID cases in the U.S. was 42,828, and daily deaths averaged 322, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Both figures show a huge decline from their January peak.
“Right now, it looks like we’re going in the right direction. However, we are entering into the winter months, where no matter what the respiratory disease is there’s always a risk of an uptick in respiratory diseases,” Fauci said.
“We can’t let our guard down now,” he said.
Fauci was also asked to weigh in on President Joe Biden’s comment last month that “the pandemic is over,” and how that could affect Americans’ COVID precautions and decisions on whether to get booster shots this fall.
“It’s obvious that that could be problematic because people would interpret it as it’s completely over and we’re done for good, which is not the case,” Fauci said. “No doubt about that.”
Fauci added that he believes the president meant that the more difficult stages of COVID have passed. He pointed out that Biden also made references to the challenges ahead.
“Unfortunately, when it gets to the point of messaging, it’s understandable how people can latch on to three or four words and that could interfere with the incentive of getting vaccinated,” Fauci said.
Fauci was also asked if he plans to cooperate with the investigations House Republicans have vowed to launch into his role in developing COVID guidance and the origins of the pandemic if they win control of the chamber in November’s election.
“I have no problem,” Fauci said. “I’m a big believer in oversight and I have testified before Congress literally hundreds of times.”
Fauci, 81, has said he will leave the Biden administration and step down as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in December “to pursue the next chapter of my career.”