Mullhall column: Dr. Anthony Fauci is back
On Sept. 2, a New York Post article featured Dr. Anthony Fauci trumpeting the need for Americans to mask up in the run-up to the cold and flu season.
In case you don’t remember, on Jan. 20, 2021, President Biden’s signed on his first day in office an executive order requiring mask-wearing and physical distancing in federal buildings, on federal lands, and by government contractors.
State and local governments quickly followed suit, and soon mask-wearing was required on airplanes and public transit, in workplaces, schools, restaurants — every “public” place more or less — based at least in part on the recommendations of Dr. Fauci, the de facto U.S. government expert on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week’s NY Post article quoted Fauci as saying, “I am concerned that people will not abide by the [new] recommendations [to mask up].”
As if to reinforce public perception of him, Dr. Fauci then referenced a “wide-ranging” study that found mask wearing made no difference in the 2020/2021 pandemic.
In other words, wear a mask, even though it doesn’t work, because COVID.
If Dr. Fauci hasn’t altogether worn out his welcome with Americans, maybe he isn’t the best person to carry any government message to the public — if ever he was.
You can review the pandemic without getting a powerful sense that Dr. Fauci was, and presumably still is, a mysterious guy.
Take the history of mask-wearing in the COVID-19 pandemic. Especially early on, answers to the mask-wearing question were all over the board. Granted, no one really knew what we were up against, but that just gave every recommendation that came down the pike all the validity of a guess.
For example, in late February 2020, Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams tweeted that wearing a face mask would not prevent the novel coronavirus.
Of great concern was the availability of face masks for caregivers, so maybe that drove that pronouncement. Yet it remains an example of a government stance ultimately contradicted by mask-wearing mandates driven in large part by Dr. Fauci.
By mid-summer, mask-wearing was the norm due in no small part to Dr. Fauci’s near-daily admonitions.
Then there’s the gain-of-function spat between Senator Rand Paul and Dr. Fauci in July of 2021. During a Congressional Hearing on the COVID-19 origin, Senator Paul accused Dr. Fauci of funding gain-of-function research. Dr. Fauci responded by telling the Senator, “You do not know what you’re talking about, quite frankly.”
According to Senator Paul, when Dr. Fauci, in his role at the National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, funded the Wuhan (China) Institute of Virology, he funded gain-of-function research.
It wasn’t a far reach by Senator Paul.
Suppose a powerful governmental funding official like Dr. Fauci sees value in gain-of-function research — training bacteria to help diabetics produce insulin, for example — but knows public backlash could arise from riskier though well-intentioned gain-of-function objectives involving SARS viruses.
Why not fund a non-domestic, Chinese lab? Easy peasy, right?
Dr. Fauci has since retired from his 50-year role at the NIH/NAIAD. He now works at Georgetown University as a professor at the School of Medicine and the McCourt School of Public Policy.
Whatever his new role entails, Dr. Fauci’s sudden reappearance as a mask-wearing advocate comes as a surprise, at least to me.
Maybe Dr. Fauci’s newest mask-wearing recommendation is a trial balloon — sampling American openness to a possible return to pandemic-level constraints.
Or, maybe it’s something even simpler.
We are, after all, heading into a presidential election year.
Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father, and longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at PostIndependent.com.
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