Today, we speak with Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, about his experience in the trenches of the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis.
Dr. Fauci has had a long career as a public servant and has advised presidents of both parties during previous pandemics. You may have seen him on the news recently as part of the White House’s coronavirus task force, but here is a bit of background on him to get you up to speed.
Who is Dr. Fauci?
As head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health since 1984, Dr. Fauci first rose to prominence as both a leading scientist and government spokesman during the emergence of H.I.V./AIDS. Since then, he has testified regularly to Congress about the threat of emerging diseases and has been one of the government’s most prominent public health leaders, playing a central role in research of disease outbreaks, and the search for cures, for the past three decades.
Behind the scenes, though, is where Dr. Fauci is considered most influential: He helps shape the decisions on where research should be directed in search of a response or cure. Over all, Dr. Fauci oversees an agency with a budget of $5.9 billion for 2020.
He may be a new face to you, but the Brooklyn-born Dr. Fauci carries a kind of celebrity status among scientists. He is renowned within the scientific community for his rigorous work ethic, known during his career to run seven miles every lunch hour regardless of the brutality of the weather. In a 1994 profile of Dr. Fauci, The New York Times wrote: “If everyone in the world were like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, there would be no need for Prozac. By any sensible reckoning, the man should be wilting around the edges.” Now, the 79-year-old doctor says he is sleeping four to five hours a night — and working every other hour of the day.
“We are in a war,” he said. “I mean, I actually think this is exactly what generals or leaders in real, you know, violent combat wars feel.”
What is his role in response to the coronavirus crisis?
Since joining President Trump’s coronavirus task force in late January, Dr. Fauci has become the explainer-in-chief of the pandemic. While he is still coordinating vaccine research at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Fauci has taken on a public role translating deep science for public consumption with both nuance and accessibility — even answering the N.B.A. star Stephen Curry’s questions about the coronavirus live on Instagram.
Dr. Fauci has also drawn attention for deftly clarifying Mr. Trump’s false or misleading claims in press briefings. Now, the public is looking to Dr. Fauci for answers about when a vaccine will be ready (he estimates at least a year or 18 months) or whether the disease will disappear by summer (“The virus determines the timeline, not us,” he told Michael Barbaro).
“It’s like drinking out of a fire hose. I mean you get up. There’s a lot of people who need information,” he said. “There are journalists, there are congressmen, there are governors, there are legislators that constantly need briefing.”
In conversation with Michael, Dr. Fauci addresses his differences with the president, how he views his role amid “the fog of war” and what he hopes his legacy, and America’s legacy, will be after this crisis.
“I think it will be remembered of really showing what a great country we are. We have been through, as I’ve said, if you look at the history of our country, some extraordinary ordeals. I mean, world wars and diseases and depressions,” he said. “And we’ve gotten through it. I have a great deal of faith in the spirit of the American people. We’re resilient. We’re going to get over this. And this is going to end.”
This episode of was hosted by Michael Barbaro; produced by Alexandra Leigh Young and Eric Krupke; with help from Robert Jimison; and edited by Lisa Chow and M.J. Davis Lin.
“The Daily” is made by Theo Balcomb, Andy Mills, Lisa Tobin, Rachel Quester, Lynsea Garrison, Annie Brown, Clare Toeniskoetter, Paige Cowett, Michael Simon Johnson, Brad Fisher, Larissa Anderson, Wendy Dorr, Chris Wood, Jessica Cheung, Alexandra Leigh Young, Jonathan Wolfe, Lisa Chow, Eric Krupke, Marc Georges, Luke Vander Ploeg, Adizah Eghan, Kelly Prime, Julia Longoria, Sindhu Gnanasambandan, Jazmín Aguilera, M.J. Davis Lin, Austin Mitchell, Sayre Quevedo, Neena Pathak, Dan Powell, Dave Shaw, Sydney Harper, Daniel Guillemette, Hans Buetow, Robert Jimison and Mike Benoist. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly. Special thanks to Sam Dolnick, Mikayla Bouchard, Stella Tan, Lauren Jackson, Julia Simon, Mahima Chablani and Nora Keller.