Should the White House itself adhere to its own basic social distancing guidelines when holding press conferences about the coronavirus?
“I cannot do the impossible,” Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, told Science Magazine on that question Sunday night.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was referring to the fact that the White House Coronavirus Task Force meetings regularly include a crowd of people on stage, in addition to the journalists and others in the briefing room.
That runs counter to White House guidelines released a week ago that Americans should avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.
The interview put a spotlight on Fauci’s uphill battle to communicate the fundamentals of fighting COVID-19, even as the President offers his own medical advice and suggests in his tweets that the distancing measures key to slowing the virus’ spread aren’t worth the economic cost.
“I keep saying, is there any way we can get a virtual press conference,” Fauci wondered aloud to Science. “Thus far, no. But when you’re dealing with the White House, sometimes you have to say things 1, 2, 3, 4 times, and then it happens. So I’m going to keep pushing.”
Fauci appeared to get more exasperated as the interview went on.
When Science brought up Trump falsely accusing China of covering up the virus for months — the country did delay informing global health authorities about the novel coronavirus, but not for that long — the doctor didn’t have an answer.
“I know, but what do you want me to do?” he said. “I mean, seriously Jon” — Jon Cohen was the Science staff writer interviewing Fauci — “let’s get real, what do you want me to do?”
The “appropriate people” had been informed of Trump’s error, Fauci said. “But I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down. OK, he said it. Let’s try and get it corrected for the next time.”
Fauci said that the task force generally meets and then comes up with a consensus on what the message should be for the press briefings. Then, somebody writes a speech for Trump on the material.
“Then he gets up and ad libs on his speech,” Fauci said.
One such ad lib, in which Trump on Friday called the State Department the “Deep State Department,” resulted in Fauci’s face-palm-heard-’round-the-world.
Did Fauci face any criticism for his action? Science asked.
“No comment,” he replied.