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WASHINGTON – Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said Friday that President Donald Trump has not attended a coronavirus task force meeting in “several months” and the meetings themselves have greatly “diminished”.
Fauci’s comments came after the U.S. reported more than 77,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins data. The last time daily cases exceeded 71,000 was during the summer surge in July. The U.S. has also reported more than 223,000 deaths.
Fauci, a leading member of the White House’s coronavirus task force and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during an interview on “Meet the Press Daily” that he hasn’t directly spoken to or interacted with Trump in some time, and the number of task force meetings have “diminished”.
Led by Vice President Mike Pence, the coronavirus task force used to meet daily during the first months of the pandemic, but that has now been scaled back to meeting once a week, Fauci said, due to the White House focusing on an “economic reopening.”
“We certainly interact with the vice president at the task force meetings, and the vice president makes our feelings and what we talk about there known to the president,” Fauci said when pressed about the last time the president attended. “But direct involvement with the president and discussions, I have not done that in awhile.”
Similarly, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, who sits on the task force as well, told NPR in an interview Monday that Trump has been primarily receiving information from Pence and Stanford Neuroradiology Chief Scott Atlas.
“I definitely don’t have his ear as much as Scott Atlas right now. That has been a changing situation,” Fauci told MSNBC.
Atlas, who is not an infectious disease expert, is now a White House adviser on the coronavirus and has publicly downplayed the virus. Reports from The Washington Post said Atlas, a fellow at the conservative think tank Hoover Institution, has been pushing herd immunity inside the White House, and Trump has been listening.
On Sunday, Twitter removed a tweet by Atlas, who posted: “Masks work? NO.” The social media platform stated the tweet violated the policy on coronavirus misinformation.
“The President is routinely briefed about the coronavirus each and every day. The relevant information is brought to him on the big decisions, and then he moves forward in the way that’s best for our country,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews told USA TODAY in a statement.
Fauci said the nation is in a “precarious” position regarding COVID-19, and people need to grasp how difficult winter will be if infections continue to spike how they are now.
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“We don’t want to shut the country down. Every time I talk about things that we need to do, people get concerned. We’re not talking about shutting down, but we’re talking about doubling down on some of the fundamental public health measures that we need to adhere to,” Fauci said, referring to mask-wearing and social distancing. “They seem rather simple, but they really do work.”
Trump has repeatedly claimed “we’re rounding the turn, we’re rounding the corner,” regarding COVID-19. “It’s going away,” he said during the debate Thursday. According to CNN, Trump has made this, and similar claims, diminishing the threat of coronavirus nearly 40 times.
On Monday, Trump blastedFauci as a “disaster” after Fauci said in an interview that it came as no shock to him when the president tested positive for COVID-19 because Trump regularly eschewed the use of masks “as a statement of strength.”
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