Fauci tells of death threats as Birx pinpoints fresh areas of Covid concern

Amanda Holpuch in New York and agency
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Al Drago/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Al Drago/Getty Images

Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the US, has had to hire security to protect himself and his family after receiving death threats in response to his work to stop the spread of coronavirus.

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Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus taskforce, told CNN that the pandemic has brought out “the best of people and the worst of people, and, you know, getting death threats for me and my family and harassing my daughters to the point where I have to get security”.

Donald Trump’s administration has consistently downplayed the public health threat of coronavirus, but Fauci has just as consistently rejected those efforts. Since the early days of the pandemic, Fauci has provided blunt assessments of the crisis in media appearances and in remarks at the White House, which have been less frequent in recent months.

“I wouldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams that people who object to things that are pure public health principles are so set against it and don’t like what you and I say, namely in the world of science, that they actually threaten you,” said Fauci.

The US has recorded almost 160,000 Covid-19 related deaths and more than 4.8m coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins University, far more than any other country in the world.

In an interview with Politico’s Pulse Check podcast released on Thursday, Fauci was more specific about the threats against his family and said he had worked to ignore the conspiracy theories about him online.

“There’s one thing about that nonsense that I do object to, and that is the effect that it has on my family,” the doctor added. “Because when you get death threats that require you having security protection all the time, and when they start hassling your children on the phone and at their job and interfering with their lives, that pisses me off, I must say.”

In July, Trump officials and advisers publicly undermined Fauci and attempted to discredit his expertise. The White House trade adviser, Peter Navarro, went as far as to attack Fauci in an op-ed in the USA Today newspaper, where he said he treats the doctor’s advice with “skepticism and caution”.

After Navarro’s article was published, Trump insisted he had a good relationship with Fauci, who has served under six presidents in his 35 years as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (Niaid) at the National Institutes of Health.

But on Saturday, Trump wrote “wrong!” in a tweet that included a video of Fauci talking about how the US has seen more cases than other countries because it only did a partial shutdown earlier in the year. Three days later, Trump publicly admonished another member of the taskforce, Deborah Birx.

Anonymous sources told the Washington Post in April that Fauci required personal security at all times because of the threats to his personal safety, as well as overzealous communications from his supporters.

Meanwhile, Fauci warned later on Thursday that even small rises in the percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 in some US cities could signal problems. He urged local leaders to remain vigilant to avoid a surge.

“This is a predictor of trouble ahead,” he told CNN.

Birx with Trump at a Covid briefing on Wednesday.
Birx with Trump at a Covid briefing on Wednesday. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AFP/Getty Images

Fauci was speaking after Birx, in a telephone call with state and local officials on Wednesday, identified new areas of concern.

Baltimore and Atlanta remain at a “very high level,” as well as Kansas City, Portland, Omaha and the Central Valley in California, Birx said on the call, a recording of which was obtained by the journalism nonprofit Center for Public Integrity.

White House data shows small increases in the percentage of positive coronavirus tests in Chicago, Boston, Detroit and Washington. Those cities need to “get on top of it,” Birx said.

Even where most people are doing things right, Fauci said, those who do not wear masks or follow social distancing guidelines can keep the virus smoldering.

“Unless everybody pulls together … we’re going to continue to see these kind of increases that Dr Birx was talking about in several of those cities,” Fauci said, noting that rising hospitalizations and deaths often follow such increases.

Birx has been traveling around the country, warning officials not to let their guard down, a message often at odds with that of Trump, who on Wednesday said the virus “will go away like things go away”.

Trump has urged state and local authorities to reopen public schools for in-person learning to help get Americans back to work and spending again. A strong economy is one of the pillars of Trump’s campaign for re-election.

In rural Mississippi’s Corinth school district, where schools opened two weeks ago, five confirmed Covid-19 cases forced some students and teachers into quarantine, superintendent Edward Lee Childress said on Facebook Live, without specifying how many.

The decision to reopen schools took into account the “inevitable moment” that Covid-19 would be detected and contact tracing plans triggered, he said.
“We’re going to have some more positive cases. We know it will happen,” Childress said.

The state department on Thursday lifted an advisory from March that US citizens should avoid all international travel due to the pandemic. But American travelers are still restricted or banned in many places, including the European Union.