President Undermines Fauci During Presentation to Military and Veteran Caregivers

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Dr. Anthony Fauci listens as President Trump speaks about the coronavirus at the White House.
Dr. Anthony Fauci listens as President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, Friday, May 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

As the nation's top infectious disease doctor delivered a comprehensive presentation Monday on the COVID-19 pandemic to the spouses and other caregivers of injured military personnel and veterans, President Donald Trump was on Twitter knocking him, saying Dr. Anthony Fauci initially recommended against masks and wanted to "let China in" early in the pandemic.

The president also poked fun at the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, saying the Washington Nationals face mask he wears is not "up to the high standards he should be exposing [sic]" and calling Fauci's opening day pitch the "worst ... in the history of baseball."

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Fauci was the keynote speaker Monday at the annual meeting of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and the Department of Veterans Affairs on Caregivers at the Forefront.

He briefed virtual attendees on the public health and scientific challenges of COVID-19, beginning with the basics of past outbreaks and following the history of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus as it spread throughout the world.

"Throughout my entire life, I've had an abiding respect and admiration for veterans and the military, and it gives me great pleasure to participate," Fauci said at the start of his remarks.

He discussed transmission -- an important topic for caregivers who are managing loved ones' medical care, often without the assistance of health providers -- and the prevalence of symptoms, saying that between 40% and 45% of those infected are asymptomatic and more than half of transmissions are caused by an asymptomatic patient.

And he repeated his message of hygiene and safety to stop the virus’ spread.

"I have repeated this so many times publicly, but I think it’s worth repeating now: universal wearing of masks cloth face coverings; maintaining physical distance at least 6 feet; avoiding crowded and congregate settings, particularly indoor; remember that outdoors is always better than indoors; and frequent handwashing," Fauci said.

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation estimates that 5.5 million Americans, including spouses, parents, family members or friends, are caring for wounded, ill or injured veterans. During the pandemic, they have faced numerous pressures, including shortages of medical supplies needed by their loved ones; fear that they may contract the virus and become hospitalized or need to quarantine, or pass the virus to their veteran; and burnout as a result of losing in-home health services, stress and anxiety.

Caregivers observing the conference shared their concerns over their loved ones having preexisting conditions that place them at increased risk for severe cases of COVID-19, such as obesity or having a respiratory illness, diabetes or heart condition.

"I wonder how veterans who have been exposed to burn pits would respond to COVID?" asked Patti Katter, cohost of The Decision Hour podcast and wife of retired Army Sgt. Ken Katter, who survived two roadside bomb attacks in Iraq in May 2007 but experienced a head injury. "Many veterans who were in Iraq and Afghanistan were exposed to burn pits."

"Thank you, Dr. Fauci, for your critical synthesis of the health and safety measures necessary to try and combat this pandemic," wrote Precious Goodson, caregiver to Leonard Goodson, a veteran of the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War and Afghanistan.

Dole herself has urged Americans to support isolated caregivers by reaching out to them, through texts or emails, by dropping off groceries or a home-cooked meal or a small gift. "When you reach out, ask how they are doing and what they need. Caregivers are often asked about their veterans' health but rarely their own," she wrote in an editorial June 18 on Military.com.

Since the first case of COVID-19 arrived in the U.S. in January, nearly 8.2 million Americans have contracted the virus and nearly 220,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Fauci told caregivers that the country "will know by November or December whether it will have a safe and effective vaccine," adding that he expects one to be produced by the end of the year or in early 2021.

Trump tweeted his remarks as he was preparing to land in Phoenix for a campaign stop. The comments came a day after Fauci appeared on the CBS news show 60 Minutes, where he said he was not surprised that the president contracted COVID-19.

He added that he had been "worried that [the president] was going to get sick when I saw him in a completely precarious situation" in the Rose Garden to announce the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

Fauci told correspondent Jon LaPook that he has received death threats and that the administration has controlled his media appearances.

"I certainly have not been allowed to go on many, many, many shows that have asked for me," he said.

Trump said Fauci "seems to get more airtime than anybody since the late, great, Bob Hope."

"All I ask of Tony is that he make better decisions," the president tweeted.

At the start of the outbreak in February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended against face masks for constant use because the virus was "not spreading in the community." CDC officials said sick persons or those suspected of contact with a COVID-19 patient should wear a mask, as should those going to see a doctor or other health provider.

On Feb. 25, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said average Americans should not wear N95 masks in order not to strain the medical supply chain. During that same briefing, Fauci said the SARS-CoV coronavirus was twice as deadly as the flu.

Shortly after Trump's tweets, Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander took to Twitter to defend Fauci, calling him "one of our country's most distinguished public servants."

"He has served six presidents, starting with Ronald Reagan. If more Americans paid attention to his advice, we'd have fewer cases of COVID-19, and it would be safer to go back to school and back to work and out to eat," Alexander said.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime

Related: VA Caregiver Program Opens to Eligible World War II, Korea and Vietnam Veterans.

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