S1: Dr. Anthony Foushee, by now, you probably know who he is. And you probably know how you feel about him. More than half of Americans say they think Foushee, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, is handling the corona virus well. But you know who isn’t so sure about that? I don’t know that bottom line. He’s a little bit of an alarmist. That’s OK. Little bit. So I guess I’m an alarm. A little bit of an alarmist. Just let me just. President Trump and a few of his closest advisers have begun murmuring about Dr. Foushee over the last few days. They’ve been highlighting all the ways the doctor has stumbled since this coronavirus began spreading. This is the president on Fox News over the weekend.
S2: Dr. Fouchier at the beginning. And again, I have a great relationship with him. I spoke to him at length yesterday. Dr. Fouche at the beginning said this will pass. Don’t worry about it. This will pass. He was real doctor.
S1: This interview came at the end of a week in which the White House gave reporters a. foushee talking points. It came after a top adviser to the president challenged Dr. Foushee on the op ed pages of USA Today. But over the last few days, Dr. Foushee has not been afraid to speak up in his own defense. So we called him to talk about the politics of this moment and the science to Dr. Foushee. Did you just put on hand sanitizer? I did. I love it. You’re always on point.
S3: I’m always on point. I try to be anyway.
S1: You. She gave us 30 minutes. Monday afternoon, just before you had to speed off to a Corona virus task force meeting. So the rest of the show is that conversation lightly edited. The New York Times ran a whole story saying, you know, the chatter in Washington is what’s happening with Dr. Foushee. Do you get asked that question directly? Do you want to answer it?
S4: Well, you know, a lot of what you’ve heard about, you know, an editorial that was written, you know, very, you know, I think to the displeasure of most people in the White House that that by Peter Navarro. Yeah. I mean, that’s just a lot of noise. It’s a whole bunch of nonsense that we need to just put aside and concentrate on a very important task that we have to work together. So when I hear and see those things, you know, as much as it might get into The New York Times and The Washington Post, you’ve got to trust me. I try to pay as little attention to it as I possibly can.
S1: Just before I got on the line, there was this announcement that President Trump is going to bring back the daily coronavirus briefings. First one is Tuesday. Are you gonna be there?
S3: I would imagine I am. I there’s there’s been nothing official that I’ve heard about. About that. I’ve heard the same sort of rumor that you’ve heard that we’re going to be getting back to the daily briefings. But I haven’t heard anything definitively. But that doesn’t matter. That likely will happen anyway. But I would imagine that I’ll be there if it does occur.
S1: Your role in the coronavirus response has shifted over the course of the pandemic. Could you walk me through a day in your life right now?
S3: Do you really want to know? Well, actually, you know, a typical day. I mean, I do have a. So, for example, today is it’s morning now actually is early afternoon. I’m actually been in my office working with my team in the development of vaccines and in therapies and diagnostics this afternoon, soon after we finished this discussion. I will rush downtown to the White House where I will spend time with the coronavirus. Taskforce will be doing a governor’s call to help the governors as they work their way through this difficult situation that many of the governors, you know, confer with my team, not my team, but the team that I’m a part of. Down at the White House, very likely I’ll get time to chat considerably with the vice president and then come back and continue to do work here. So it’s a packed day. You know, it’s really quite packed.
S1: There’s someone you’re not mentioning, which is it sounds like you don’t plan on meeting with the president.
S3: No, I actually probably not today. If what you say is true that we will have a briefing, that I might see him tomorrow. I spoke with the president, a lengthy conversation I had with him at the end of last week. I don’t think I’ll see him today, but there’s not a plan for me to see him today. But if there is a briefing tomorrow, it’s quite conceivable that I’ll see him given all the back and forth over the course of this past week.
S1: Do you fear for your job at all?
S4: No, no. It depends on what you mean by my job. I mean, my job is as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. I have no fear a bull about that. The job of being a member of the coronavirus task force. I have been insured by the president and by every one of the White House that we are fine. I mean, I think that’s all chatter that you hear. I don’t think there’s any reason for anybody to want to remove me from the Corona Virus Task Force. If they do. I will leave and go back to my day job, which is trying to develop a vaccine and therapies against Cauvin 19.
S1: Well, it’s felt like this kind of public affairs wrestling match with various folks speaking out. And notably, Mitch McConnell came out and said his faith in you is total, which is a big thing.
S5: But then we saw these pictures of McConnell in the White House just today, and he’s with the president. And no one is wearing a mask. I wonder when you see pictures like that, if you just, like, bang your head against a wall?
S3: No, if I banged my head against the wall for everything that bothered me, I. I wouldn’t be speaking to you now.
S4: I actually obviously am. And, you know, I’m very, very explicit about the fact that I feel that masks are really important and everyone should mayr a mask when they’re outside in contact with people. We should distance is probably as important or more important than anything. Try to keep physical distancing. Wear a mask, because often you cannot, because of circumstances that you are put into, maintain the adequate and appropriate physical distancing. But yes, I will take this opportunity to say that we really must emphasize physical distancing and mask usage.
S6: After the break. More from Dr. Foushee.
S1: We’re talking on Monday, July 20th. How would you describe the state of public health in United States right now?
S3: We’re being challenged right now. I mean, if you look at the numbers, they don’t lie. I mean, we have a situation, particularly in certain states, mostly southern states, that over the last several weeks have had a substantial resurgence of cases to record numbers. You know, in cases that you get ultimately will lead sooner related to increase in hospitalizations, which ultimately will lead to an increase in deaths. And that’s what we’re starting to see right now. You sound alarmed. Yeah. Well, you know, it’s something that we need to address and in some states. Will will. In fact, the ones that are most severely involve certainly have to put a pause on the reopening and maybe take a step or two back and take a look at the things that we have to do. And that is, you know, no crowds closed. The Bors masks physical distancing. And there’s no doubt from the scientific data that we and others and even other countries have accumulated over this trying period of several months that we’ve been through that. If you do that, we can turn it around. We should not despair, throw our hands up and say, oh, my goodness, this is out of control. We can get it under control. There’s no doubt about that. We just need to do certain fundamental things.
S1: But if we look back a little bit, because, you know, a few months ago, you spoke to a reporter for The New York Times and you talked about how your focus was on opening up the right way. And you were so honest. You’re like, we know if we open up, we’re gonna see the cases go up. And so we need to be prepared for that eventuality. But I have to say, I look around right now. I look at the wait times and the lines for testing in places like Florida and Texas. And I just think did those preparations happen?
S3: Well, I mean, obviously, that’s a very good question. If you look at the result of what’s going on, we can say that something did not go right. You are absolutely correct. When I think back about things that I said back, we were doing the daily White House press conferences and we were talking about opening America again when we first introduced the criteria, the gateway, the phase one, the phase two, the phase three. You can recall and look on the record of what I said, I said it is important that we all start moving towards reopening the country, getting the economy back, getting employment back. All the important things that go along with that. But I said back then, it is critical that we do it in a measured, prudent way. And even when we do it correctly, we have to get the cooperation of the citizens of the cities, of the states and of the regions that we’re dealing with. You can’t have a situation where you’re trying to prudently open. And then you see the pictures and the films and the clips of what we’ve seen about people congregating in crowds at bars, no masks, no physical distancing. I mean, that that’s just the recipe to get into the kind of trouble we’ve gotten into.
S1: Well, you’re saying, you know, people are gathering and you’re seeing these photos of people at bars and on beaches and things like that. But isn’t that the message they’re getting is also really confused and confusing potentially?
S3: You know, it’s possible, yes. I mean, I think, you know, you we can’t deny that there are, you know, some aspects of mixed messages that you’re getting from different local leaders and national leaders or what have you. It’s it it is what it is. But we’ve got to overcome that. We’ve got to overcome it. We’ve got to try as best as possible.
S1: I wonder if you look at what’s happening now and you’re thinking about the fall, too, because there had been this idea that the virus could be seasonal.
S5: And I wonder if you’re looking at this surge now and thinking if we’re having this surge now in the middle of the summer, we’re sort of keeping the infection rate high and then we’re going to really get walloped when it gets colder.
S3: Well, that is certainly conceivable. And that gets back to another thing that I have been trying to articulate when I get involved in interviews like this, is that the best place to be? When you do get a situation like the fall and the winter where there may be the appearance of more cases is to be at the lowest baseline that you could possibly be. And one of the issues in this country that have been particularly problematic is that if you look at our curve and compare it to the curve, let’s say, of the European Union in general, their cases went way up. But. When they brought it down, they brought it down to essentially a baseline, which means tens and maybe hundreds of cases, not thousands and tens of thousands of cases. If you look at us right now in the summer when I would hope that we could get down as low as we possibly can before the fall, our baseline never got down below around 20000 per day. And then it was 20, 20, 20. And then over recent weeks, as you well know, we’ve gone up to 30, 40, 50, 60 and even 70000 cases.
S1: Given all that, what should the fall look like? Like we’re talking so much about schools now because parents are looking at, you know, four to six weeks until, you know, when they would typically be sending their kids to schools. So should we be thinking about that, even given how high the case numbers are right now?
S3: Well, I mean, I think when you talk about schools, you have to put some general principles. And then you’ve got to fashion it to what the local on the ground situation is. So as a general concept, I think it’s important that to the best of our ability within the realm of safety and attention to the health and the welfare of the children and the teachers, we should try as best as possible as a default position to try and get the children back to school and the schools open. Having said that, we live in a very large country that is very heterogeneous demographically and geographically, and there will be counties, regions, cities of our country in which there’s very little activity of viral spread. So you could, with impunity, open up the schools there with no problem. But they are going to be places that are hot, as it were, hot in the sense of a lot of cases that are now being transmitted. When that occurs, you may need to take a second look and say, now, wait a minute, if we are going to open, we’re either going to be in such bad shape that we can’t open or if we are going to open, we’ve got to creatively figure out a way to mitigate the risk of transmission.
S5: But doing it that way. I hear what you’re saying, but doing that weigh on it that way on that individual basis. It also introduces so much room for error because you’re asking individual school districts and principals and superintendents to make this public health call. Is that fair?
S3: You know? No, actually, I you make a good point. And that’s the reason why the CDC has guidelines for that. And I would encourage the leaders and I’ve spoken to many of the leaders of school district superintendents and principals about the kinds of creative things that they can do and they can be helped by the CDC. The CDC has guidelines for that and they should not hesitate to contact the CDC about that. I mean, one of the things is kind of hybrid. Well, either you have part of the day for a class part of the day, not all in a day’s physical separating in the class. I know it’s difficult sometimes logistically to do that, but to try and separate the desks, depending upon the age of the children, to get them to wear masks, have some of the children be online and do virtual learning and others in the class. But I must say, as I started off, even though the default position would be to try as best as you can to open it paramount above everything has to be the safety and the welfare of the children and the teachers.
S5: I have one more thread to ask you about if you can make the time, which is I noticed in some reporting this weekend, The New York Times, it was a long bit of reporting, kind of looking at how we got here, looking at how we got this surge in cases and how the White House had made a decision to give more authority to the states and let them make their own choices. And we can see now that for many states this the consequences of that don’t look very pretty. But you’re discussed in this article. And what was interesting to me was that it talked about the fact that, like, every night you were going home and calling public health officials around the country. To say what’s happening where you are. You did this kind of epidemiology on your own and I’m wondering why you thought that was important.
S3: Well, the reason I felt is important is that I am fundamentally a physician and a scientist. I have been in the trenches. I have been in emergency rooms treating patients. I have treated Ebola patients at the NIH. I spent decades in the early part of my career in the trenches treating desperately ill, HIV infected individuals. So I’m not just somebody sitting in a room in Washington, you know, opining about things. I know what it’s like in the trenches. So I felt that since that has been my life experience. Let me go out, call a people I know in New York and New Orleans and Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Seattle, San Francisco. We’re all people I know my friends are. And find out, is there any disconnect is what’s going on in the ground. What we perceive is going on as we sit in Washington. And I have found that sometimes the dots don’t get connected and you’ve got to put a little extra effort into connecting the dots, because many of the people were telling me that even though there’s a lot of testing, what’s happening is that sometimes you have to wait several days to get a result of a test. And when you’re doing contact tracing that, if you have to wait several days, like six, seven, eight days, then you almost nullify the purpose of contact tracing. And you don’t know that when you’re just sitting in a room and saying, well, you know, we have X number of tests we did yesterday or five times X number of tests we did yesterday. I think that’s important. But what I wanted to find out is what is the real impact of that testing? And that’s the reason why I called people up and try and find out.
S1: You still having those phone calls? Yeah. What are you hearing now?
S3: You know, I. I’m going to have one. I think tomorrow is Tuesday. Yeah, I’m going to have one tomorrow and I’ll let you know.
S1: Thank you for taking the time.
S3: My pleasure. It’s good to be with you. Thank you for inviting me.
S1: Dr. Anthony Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He also advises the White House. And that’s the show. What Next is produced by Mary Wilson, Jason de Leon and Daniel Hewett. We’re getting a little help from Daniel Avios this week. Alison Benedict and Alicia Montgomery are always there to lend a hand. Special thanks to Katie Raiford. She helped make this episode possible. I’m Mary Harris. We’ll be back in your feed with more. What next? Tomorrow.