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Fauci discusses threats against his family, severity of the US coronavirus outbreak at Harvard forum

Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Dr. Anthony Fauci.Kevin Dietsch/Pool UPI via AP

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday he has been receiving death threats and his family is being harassed to the point that he has required security, as the nation’s most prominent infectious disease specialist remains the target of conspiracy theorists during the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at an online forum hosted by Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Fauci lamented the “really unseemly things that crises bring out in the world.”

“You know it brings out the best of people and the worst of people,” he said. “And you know getting death threats for me and my family and harassing my daughters to the point where I have to get security is just, I mean it’s amazing.”

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Fauci had previously disclosed that he and his family have received death threats. As the coronavirus pandemic has dragged on, he has become the target of conspiracy theories and attacks on his credibility, often fueled by social media. CNN reported that Fauci required personal security as early as April.

“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 . . . that they actually threaten you,” Fauci said in response to a question from CNN’s Sanjay Gupta. “I mean that to me is just strange.”

“I wish that they did not have to go through that,” Fauci said of his three adult daughters, though he said they’re handling the harassment “well.”

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, answered questions about the coronavirus during the roughly 90-minute forum held over Zoom and streamed live on Facebook. He addressed what he called a “degree of anti-science feeling in this country,” saying he thinks the sentiment is related to a general mistrust of authority.

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He said scientists are often looked at as “authoritative” figures, and that the scientific community has to do more to combat that mistrust.

“When I say that if we follow these five or six principles, we can open up, we don’t have to stay shut . . . there are some people that just don’t believe me or don’t pay attention to that, and that’s unfortunate, because that is the way out of this,” he said.

Fauci expressed “an abiding faith in the American spirit” and said the country could pull together to slow the spread of the virus. But he was also blunt at times in his assessment of the response so far.

Asked how, five months into the pandemic, testing is still not available on demand, Fauci called it, “unacceptable, period,” and said the country needed to do better.

“And for me to say anything different is distorting reality,” he said.

Similarly, Fauci said that “quantitatively” the United States is experiencing the worst outbreak in the world, with just under 5 percent of the world’s population accounting for 20 to 25 percent of cumulative infections and deaths worldwide.

Describing how far the United States has to go to control the pandemic, he called COVID-19 the most unusual disease he has ever seen.

“I don’t think anything has come close to that in my 40 years of experience,” he said.

It’s an insidious virus that’s hard to control because as many as 40 percent of those infected will remain asymptomatic, which makes it difficult to convince younger people to take steps to combat the spread, he said. But he emphasized there are measures everyone should follow, such as wearing masks and avoiding crowds. Fauci also said that given what is known about how the virus travels, it’s best to keep windows open when congregating indoors.

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He said people often overlook simple steps that could make a big impact.

“You mean we’ve got this big crisis and you’re telling me to open up the window? Yes, I’m telling you to open up the window,” he said.


Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.