Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, attends a U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 18, 2021, to examine the COVID-19 response, focusing on an update from federal officials.
On April 12, 2020, a National Institutes of Health official emailed Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, and then-CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, concerned about the growing hostility between the United States and the World Health Organization over the coronavirus pandemic.
Then, President Donald Trump threatened to withdraw funding from the World Health Organization for mishandling “every aspect” of the outbreak.
“I am concerned about the recent fight between the US and WHO because it may have an adverse impact on current global efforts to control the spread of COVID-19,” said the email, which also questioned China’s Covid-19 case and fatality data.
Fauci responded, saying: “This pandemic has been extremely difficult for many countries around the world, including China and the United States. I can only say that I (and I am sure Bob Redfield) prefer to look forward rather than assign blame or fault.”
“We have a lot of problems ahead of us that we have to face together,” he added.
As the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, emergency medical technicians (EMT) lift a patient identified as having coronavirus disease (COVID-19) into an ambulance while wearing protective gear, in New York City, New York, U.S., March 26, 2020.
The message from the NIH official, whose name has been redacted, was made public as part of a trove of thousands of Fauci’s emails from the first half of 2020 obtained by BuzzFeed News and other media outlets via the Freedom of Information Act. Fauci was at the epicentre of the storm as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.
The anxious note, as well as Fauci’s ominous response, exemplify the chaos of the moment.
Covid cases and deaths in the United States had reached frightening new highs since Trump declared the pandemic a national emergency a month earlier. State leaders had issued draconian lockdown orders, upending millions of people’s lives and precipitating an economic downturn. Testing, social distancing, and contact tracing were in their early stages, hospitals were overburdened, critical protective equipment was running low, and vaccines had yet to be developed.
U.S. President Donald Trump declares the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, March 13, 2020, as Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar listen.
The president, who in January and February heaped praise on China’s response to the outbreak of the emergent virus, had sharply reversed his tone, slamming the WHO and Beijing and blaming both for the crisis.
Fauci had been receiving emails from people claiming that a pandemic was imminent in the days and weeks leading up to the World Health Organization’s official declaration on March 11, 2020.
Some asked if large, in-person events should be cancelled, while others tossed out ideas for potential treatments and solutions to the outbreak. Some questioned whether he believed Americans were adequately prepared.
In his frequently late-night responses to high-level US officials, famous performers, and everyday people, Fauci demonstrated patience, diplomacy, and diligence. The emails also show the enormous physical and sometimes emotional toll the pandemic was taking on Fauci, who had become one of the most trusted sources of information on Covid-19 during the Trump administration’s sometimes disjointed response.
On February 18, 2020, Fauci received an email from an apparent old acquaintance asking if he was in town for a potential weekend meet-up. Fauci apologised, writing that he would be unable to connect and asking if they could meet at a later time because he was working nonstop.
“With the coronavirus crisis, the White House and HHS have me on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including Saturday and Sunday. I’ve only seen my wife… for about 45 minutes in the last ten days “He put pen to paper. “I’m hoping you understand.”
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, right, and Deborah Birx, coronavirus response coordinator, listen during a news conference in the White House briefing room on Monday, March 2, 2020, in Washington, D.C., U.S.
By late March, when the United States had slightly more than 153,000 Covid cases, Fauci apologised for taking so long to respond to another old friend, claiming that he was receiving over 2,000 emails per day. In a subsequent email to Dr. J. Larry Jameson, a fellow physician at the University of Pennsylvania, Fauci stated that he was “completely swamped” and was only getting “3 to 4 hours of sleep per night.”
His emails are peppered with pitches from people with widely varying levels of expertise offering their best guesses for dealing with the ongoing crisis.
One person who contacted the government in early March, describing himself as “neither a physician nor a scientist,” suggested that the government expose adults in the United States to other known and “less lethal” coronaviruses in order to develop some level of immunity against the new virus.
At 10:50 p.m., Fauci responded: “Thank you for your message. Fauci, A.S.”
Ami Simms, a quilter, contacted the NIH in mid-March to offer her assistance in creating a pattern for face masks. She stated that she has previously mobilised quilters for other causes and that there are “millions of sewers who would be delighted to step up and help right now.” Dr. Andrea Lerner, a top medical officer at Fauci’s agency, received the email and forwarded it to Fauci.
Woman Wearing a Self-Made Face Mask
His responses demonstrate that the inbox-clogging input wasn’t always appreciated.
“Please read this and figure out what the hell he’s talking about and act according to your judgement,” Fauci wrote in an email to an NIH official on March 7, 2020, referring to a message he received claiming a “game-changer” for Covid detection.
“There are only 498 emails left to go tonight,” Fauci added.
The various advice and questions Fauci received during those early months demonstrated how little leading US and international scientists, including Fauci himself, knew about Covid at the start of the pandemic.
The issue of masks arose early and frequently, and some of Fauci’s advice was later proven to be incorrect.
Fauci advised American University President Sylvia Burwell, who served as HHS secretary under former President Barack Obama, not to wear a mask at the airport in an email sent on February 5, 2020. “The typical drugstore mask is not really effective at keeping the virus out because it is small enough to pass through the material,” he wrote.
Pedestrians wearing protective masks walk down a street in Tokyo’s Ginza district on January 25, 2020, to help stop the spread of a deadly virus that began in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
In late March, Chinese immunologist George Gao apologised to Fauci for criticising the US mask policy. “How could I use the phrase “big mistake” in reference to others? That’s how the journalist phrased it. I hope this makes sense “On March 28, Gao wrote.
The United States would not change its mask guidance until July.
Some of the email chains were also eerily prophetic.
When there were 91 confirmed cases in the United States on March 2, 2020, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson contacted Fauci, claiming that NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins told him that 5% to 20% of the country could become infected with Covid.
“A pandemic now appears to be a possibility,” he said. “Depending on the mortality rate,” he wrote, “this could result in hundreds of thousands of deaths.” Fauci stated that he was correct. Even if the mortality rate was 1% and only 5% of the US population got it, “we could have a few hundred thousand deaths,” he said at 6:11 a.m.
Hugh Auchincloss, Fauci’s deputy director at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, indicated in a Feb. 1 email that the agency was investigating whether it was involved in so-called gain of function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The lab has since been thrust into the spotlight in the debate over the virus’s origins after media reports surfaced that at least three researchers there became sick enough from a Covid-like infection to seek hospital treatment in November 2019.
Security personnel stand guard outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology during a visit by a World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), on February 3, 2021, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China.
Fauci had sent Auchincloss a 2015 study titled “A SARS-like cluster of circulating bat coronaviruses shows potential for human emergence” published in Nature Medicine. The study was partially funded by the NIAID and included numerous authors, the majority of whom were from prestigious U.S. institutions. One of them, however, was based at the Wuhan Institute, where researchers were employing a controversial method of research in which a pathogen is made more lethal or contagious in order to study ways to combat it.
“According to the paper you sent me, the experiments were conducted prior to the gain of function pause, but they have since been reviewed and approved by the NIH. I’m not sure what that means because Emily is certain that no Coronavirus work has passed through the P3 framework. She’ll look into whether we have any distant ties to this work in another country.”
Last month, US President Joe Biden said he directed US intelligence agencies to investigate the origins of Covid, saying it was equally likely that it emerged from nature or leaked from a lab.
Fauci was a well-respected infectious disease expert in scientific circles, but his high-profile role and no-nonsense style as the pandemic’s leading authority made him a household name – and a reluctant pop-culture icon, according to his emails.
“I could not have even begun to make this up,” Fauci wrote on April 10 regarding an article in The Atlantic describing his rapid ascent to “heartthrob” status amid the pandemic.
Brad Pitt as Dr. Anthony Fauci during the “Fauci Cold Open” on “Saturday Night Live” on April 25, 2020.
“Our society is really totally nuts,” Fauci wrote in reaction to a similar piece documenting “Fauci Fever” and the online “sexualization” of the now-80-year-old virologist.
His face was branded on clothing, food and drinks, and he was referenced constantly both in the news and entertainment media. Fauci in a March 31 email reacted to a Washington Post article about his “cult following,” calling it “truly surrealistic.”
“Hopefully, this will all come to an end soon,” Fauci wrote. “It is not at all pleasant, that is for sure,” he added later.
However, the records show At least one portrayal of Fauci was flattering: Brad Pitt’s on Saturday Night Live. On April 27, Fauci wrote to a colleague, “Pitt was amazing.” “Pitt looked ‘exactly like me,’ according to one SNL reviewer. That statement changed the course of my year.”
“You now know who would play you in the movie,” Tara Schwetz, the NIH’s associate deputy director, responded. “You could play the role of my medical school girlfriend, which would give you the possibility of working with Brad Pitt,” Fauci speculated.