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Was Fauci surprised Trump got COVID-19? ‘Absolutely not’

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listened during a Senate hearing in September.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listened during a Senate hearing in September.ALEX EDELMAN/Associated Press

The nation’s top infectious disease expert said he was concerned when he saw President Trump at a crowded gathering in the Rose Garden of the White House last month marking Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

Was Dr. Anthony Fauci surprised when, less than a week later, Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19?

“Absolutely not,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, said in a “60 Minutes" interview that aired Sunday night. “I was worried that he was going to get sick when I saw him in a completely precarious situation of crowded, no separation between people, and almost nobody wearing a mask.”

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At least 10 people who attended the Sept. 26 nomination ceremony at the White House have tested positive for COVID-19. The ceremony was held outdoors with about 200 people attending, but few wore masks or followed social distancing guidelines.

Photos and video from the ceremony show attendees sitting close together, shaking hands and exchanging hugs.

“When I saw that on TV, I said, ‘Oh my goodness. Nothing good can come out of that, that’s got to be a problem.’ And then sure enough, it turned out to be a superspreader event,” Fauci told “60 Minutes” correspondent Dr. Jonathan LaPook.

Coronavirus cases are surging across the United States, with the election just two weeks from Tuesday. Texas, Illinois, Wisconsin, Florida, and California have all seen spikes in the last week, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Fauci, who said he will “try to vote in person” Nov. 3, has attempted to stay out of the political discussions surrounding the pandemic, but that’s been tricky under Trump. Earlier this month, an advertisement for Trump’s reelection campaign included a clip that made it appear Fauci was praising the president’s response to the pandemic.

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“I can’t imagine that anybody could be doing more,” Fauci says in the ad, which continued to run in battleground states last week, according to “60 Minutes.”

Fauci said his words were taken out of context and that he was speaking about the work of the White House Coronavirus Task Force — not Trump.

Fauci said that he would never “publicly endorse any political candidate.”

“And here I am, they’re sticking me right in the middle of a campaign ad, which I thought was outrageous," he said. "I was referring to something entirely different.”

“I got really ticked off,” he added.

Though the Trump campaign used Fauci’s words in its ad, the White House has been less willing to allow Fauci to speak to the news media, he told LaPook.

“I certainly have not been allowed to go on many, many, many shows that have asked for me,” Fauci said, adding that he believes there has been “a restriction” on the flow of information concerning the pandemic.

Despite being diagnosed with and treated for COVID-19, the president has continued to downplay the severity of the virus. Fauci said he’s seen a growing distrust in science over the last few years. He doesn’t believe it is the science itself that some people reject, but rather the authority that science represents to some.

“There’s an anti-authority feeling in the world,” Fauci said. “And science has an air of authority to it. So people who want to push back on authority tend to, as a sidebar, push back on science.”

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In the first presidential debate, Trump mocked former vice president Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, for wearing a face mask, despite scientific evidence that shows masks can cut down the spread of infection.

But Fauci, whose 96-year-old mother-in-law was diagnosed with coronavirus, doesn’t see Trump’s stance on masks as “anti-science.”

“It’s more a statement ... a statement of strength,” Fauci said. “He sometimes equates wearing a mask with weakness.”

“Does that make sense to you?” Lapook asked.

“No, it doesn’t,” Fauci said. “Of course not.”


Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickStoico.