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Trump listens "even if we disagree on some things," Dr. Fauci says in interview about coronavirus task force

Fauci says social distancing is crucial to prevent U.S. from "becoming an Italy"

Dr. Anthony Fauci has been working overtime the past few weeks as the coronavirus crisis escalated across America. Between his job as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and his crucial position on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Fauci has become a strong and authoritative voice for Americans in the midst of the pandemic —and he's working alongside another strong voice, President Donald Trump.

In an interview with Science magazine, Fauci admitted he is "sort of exhausted. But other than that, I'm good. I mean, I'm not, to my knowledge, coronavirus infected. To my knowledge, I haven't been fired," he added with a laugh.

Fauci has stood by Mr. Trump's side during almost every White House press conference on the coronavirus, and in some cases he's spoken up to correct or dial back certain claims the president has made. But in the interview, Fauci stressed they are working together well.

"To [Trump's] credit, even though we disagree on some things, he listens," Fauci said of the commander in chief. "He goes his own way. He has his own style. But on substantive issues, he does listen to what I say."

At times, it can seem like the words of guidance offered by the two men are like the circles of a Venn diagram — not identical, but overlapping in the middle.

President Trump Joins Coronavirus Task Force Briefing At White House
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks alongside President Trump during a White House press conference about the coronavirus outbreak on March 17, 2020. Getty

For instance, Mr. Trump has repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as the "Chinese virus," while Fauci sticks to the scientific names. And when the president tweeted that an experimental drug combo has "a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine," Fauci followed up with a much more modest assessment, explaining that more research will be needed to see if it works against the coronavirus.

When asked in the interview if he disagrees with things that happen during the press conferences, Fauci was careful his response. "Well, I don't disagree in the substance," he told Science magazine. "It is expressed in a way that I would not express it, because it could lead to some misunderstanding about what the facts are about a given subject." 

One thing he explicitly disagrees with: Mr. Trump's hand-shaking. "We should not be doing that. Not only that — we should be physically separating a bit more on those press conferences," Fauci said. "To his credit, the vice president is really pushing for physical separation of the task force [during meetings]."

Fauci added that Mr. Pence enforces the rule of no more than 10 people gathering for their meetings, but he acknowledged the crowded stage during press briefings is a different beast. "I keep saying, 'Is there any way we can get a virtual press conference?' Thus far, no," Fauci said. "But when you're dealing with the White House, sometimes you have to say things one, two, three, four times, and then it happens. So, I'm going to keep pushing."

When Science magazine reporter Jon Cohen asked Fauci about Mr. Trump's repeated claims that a travel ban on China had a big impact on slowing the spread of the virus to the U.S., and that China could have shared information about the outbreak months earlier (before it was even detected yet), the NIAID director seemed almost at a loss.

"I know, but what do you want me to do? I mean, seriously Jon, let's get real, what do you want me to do?" Fauci asked rhetorically. 

Fauci said advisers try to tell Mr. Trump when his claims don't comport with facts. "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. 

Fauci also spoke about the delicate balance of states like California, New York and Illinois mandating stay-at-home orders for millions of people, while the federal government stop short of calling for a nationwide lockdown. "It is felt — and it isn't me only speaking, it's a bunch of people who make the decisions — that if you lock down everything now, you're going to crash the whole society," he said, while stressing that high-risk areas do need to "ratchet it up."

Facui was also asked about a moment at last Friday's task force briefing that's gone viral.

"At Friday's press conference, you put your hands over your face when Trump referred to the 'deep State Department' (a popular conspiracy theory). It's even become an internet meme. Have you been criticized for what you did?" Cohen asked Fauci.

"No comment," he responded.

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