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Fauci: Americans ignoring science during pandemic is "frustrating"

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Posted at 8:28 AM, Jun 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-19 11:14:42-04

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious diseases expert, is frustrated about the nation's inability to stop the continued spread of coronavirus, which he says is largely because Americans aren't following recommended health guidelines.

"Clearly, we have not succeeded in getting the public as a whole, uniformly to respond in a way that is a sound scientific [response to a] public health and medical situation. I mean, it is clear because right now, you're seeing people throughout the country [contracting the virus]. And it's unfortunate. And it's frustrating," Fauci told CBS News Radio's Steven Portnoy in an interview Friday morning.

And he blames the inconsistent public response for the recent "burst of infections."

"It's a combination of leadership on the one hand, but even sometimes, when the leadership calls out for people to obey certain types of guidelines, they don't do it. I mean, they — and that is very frustrating. And that's the reason why we're seeing the burst of infections that we're seeing right now in our country," Fauci said.

The problem isn't the guidance from local leaders. "In many states and cities, you have the leadership actually giving the right guideline instruction. But somehow, people for one reason or another, don't believe it or not fazed by it. And they go ahead and do things that are either against the guidelines that their own leadership is saying," Fauci said. He says he finds the increase in cases in states including Texas, Arizona and Oklahoma "disturbing."

He noted that there's a certain anti-science trend in the country that may be contributing to the inconsistent public response to the advice of health experts. It's not a new phenomenon, Fauci says, but it has been intensified by the current moment.

"It's the kind of mistrust of science because science is viewed as authority. And there's a lot of anti-authority feeling. I think that's the kind of thing that drives the anti-vaxxers, the people who don't believe the science of vaccination and don't want to get their children vaccinated. It's all part of that trend, which is very disturbing," Fauci said.

With the infection still active and rising in parts of the country, Fauci also discussed the "very clear" risk that coronavirus can spread at mass gatherings like President Trump's rally in Oklahoma on Saturday, his first since early March. He advises staying away.

"The best way to protect yourself and to prevent acquisition of and spread of infection is to avoid crowds. Avoid crowds. If in fact, for one reason or other, you feel compelled to do that, which we don't recommend, then wear a mask at all times," Fauci told Portnoy. "So when you see situations, when people are not doing — that they are in crowds and or they're not wearing masks when they're outside, of course, that gives us concern about the increased risk of spreading infection."

The campaign is going to provide attendees with hand sanitizer, temperature checks and masks upon entry, but wearing a mask will be optional. The venue, the Bank of Oklahoma Center, holds 19,000 people, and an additional stage in an outdoor area adjacent to the venue holds several thousand more.

Asked if attending a mass gathering in an enclosed space could raise the risk of transmission, Fauci replied that "it's very clear that the risk exists."

"We know that when you pull back and mitigate, you diminish the transmissibility. And you know, when you congregate, you increase it. Now, you can't give a numerical number and say, well, it increases by X-amount, but there's no doubt that it increases it," Fauci said.

Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.