While trusted and respected by many, Dr. Anthony Fauci is starting to face some pushback as the tragic downsides of “social distancing” come into view.
The immunologist received a grilling from Fox News host Martha MacCallum Friday over the failure of various coronavirus models to accurately predict the death toll in America from the disease, Fox News reported. With 17 million people suddenly unemployed in just the last few weeks, some have begun to question whether the draconian lockdowns recommended by the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases chief were prudent.
Data and assumptions
In recent days, Dr. Fauci and others in the Trump administration have spoken more optimistically about overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. Fauci told NBC on Thursday that the death toll in the U.S. might be 60,000, a considerable change from the White House’s recent estimates of up to 240,000.
While heartening, these revisions have led some to criticize Fauci for pushing — perhaps prematurely — strict, sweeping social distancing measures that have already taken a severe toll on the economy. When MacCallum pressed Fauci to explain what went wrong with various models that predicted more catastrophic consequences, the doctor said that models are flawed and need to be modified as “real data” comes in — and that didn’t happen until social distancing was starting to take place, he suggested.
“Models are only as good as the assumptions that you put into the model,” Fauci said on Friday’s episode of The Story, according to Fox. “And those assumptions that start off when you don’t have very much data at all, or the data you have is uncertain, then you put these assumptions in and you get these wide ranges of calculations of what might happen.”
But MacCallum noted that the White House’s prediction of up to 240,000 deaths already had mitigation factored in, and that decisions made based on such grim predictions have already had “dire consequences.” In response, Fauci said that he doesn’t fully trust models either, and that the decision to pursue lockdowns was based partly on simply observing the chaos in places like China and northern Italy.
“You don’t even have to look at any model. Just take a look at what happened in China. Take a look at what happened in northern Italy, how the hospitals were completely overrun, and the draconian methods that had to be taken in China to turn down their outbreak,” he remarked Friday, according to Fox. Watch the exchange below:
Fauci on the brink?
Dr. Fauci has won high approval ratings for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, but his sometimes narrow focus has led to considerable backlash. In addition to the extreme measures already taken, Dr. Fauci has suggested that citizens receive “immunity cards” to track who has recovered from the virus, Business Insider notes, prompting cries of authoritarian overreach.
This all comes as President Donald Trump weighs what he calls the “hardest” decision he has ever had to make: when to open the U.S. economy back up. In his fashion, Fauci has said that the economy should be opened only cautiously, once steps like making widespread antibody testing available are taken to get ahead of any second flare-up of the virus, according to MSNBC.
He told MacCallum Friday that restarting the economy won’t be “like a light switch,” although it is “quite possible” that Americans in some parts of the country could resume their normal lives as soon as May 1, Trump’s target date.
“It is quite possible,” Fauci said. “[Trump] will consult with the health people, myself and others, physicians and health workers, who are on the task force, and then make a decision.”
Did Fauci get it wrong, or are the critics being unfair? Only time will tell.