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Fauci expects role in Biden’s coronavirus response, would consider Cabinet position

Michael Wilner
Mcclatchy Washington Bureau

Washington – Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, expects a role in the incoming administration and would serve in a senior position if called upon by President-elect Joe Biden.

In an interview with McClatchy on Wednesday, Fauci said he assumes he will stay in his job as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a position he has held since 1984. But he would “seriously consider” serving in another capacity, such as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or as Health and Human Services secretary, if Biden asked.

Dr. Anthony Fauci

“I’m perfectly comfortable with the role that I’m in, but certainly if the president of the United States wants me to do something else, I’d seriously consider it,” Fauci said. “Quite frankly, I don’t anticipate that I’m going to be doing anything other than what I’m doing now. But then again, we have a president-elect who may have other plans. I don’t know.”

Fauci has had informal conversations in recent weeks with Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming chief of staff.

“We have not had the kind of substantive discussions about what direction we’re going with the task force,” Fauci said.

“It is assumed, very clearly, that I will be part of their pandemic COVID-19 response. Whether that’s exactly where I am right now, with input into a task force, I think it’s likely,” he continued. “I don’t see myself changing the position I have as the director of NIAID. I’m almost certain that I will be in the same position I’m in, but will have some degree of input into what their plan and their process is. Precisely what that is has not been worked out.”

Biden’s first act as president-elect was to urge all Americans to wear masks, and to announce the formation of a new coronavirus advisory board that will consider a national mask mandate as one of his first executive actions as president amid rising cases and deaths.

As a candidate for president, Biden said he supported the idea of a national mask mandate, but acknowledged it would likely face legal challenges.

Fauci said he would support executive action if Biden chooses that path.

“If President-elect Biden decides on a mask mandate, I will be fully supportive of that. I do know that there is a considerable amount of pushback for mandates,” Fauci said. “I would certainly be supportive of it.”

Fauci also suggested an alternative path: having the president encourage state and local authorities to implement mask mandates based on their individualized outbreaks, with the full backing of the federal government.

Epidemiologists warn that an additional 200,000 Americans could die due to the coronavirus in the coming months before a vaccine becomes available – a number that would be drastically reduced with widespread mask use.

Fauci has increased his media appearances in recent weeks, both to promote confidence in upcoming coronavirus vaccines as well as to underscore the dire state of the pandemic.

He warned that without increased adherence to basic public health guidelines – such as mask use and social distancing – the nation could begin to see record daily deaths, outpacing the death tolls reached in the first phase of the pandemic in the spring.

“That’s certainly possible, and one of the reasons we’re concerned. We’re already breaking records of hospitalizations, number of cases, number of cases per day and even deaths,” Fauci said.

While the pandemic is accelerating across much of the country, two vaccines, produced by Pfizer and Moderna, have completed advanced clinical trials and proven to be roughly 95% effective. Americans in high-risk categories may have access to those vaccines as soon as mid-December.

Fauci said he would be willing to take either – Americans will not likely have a choice until the vaccines are more widely available, he said – and would be happy to go as far as to take his dose on camera, in a message of confidence to an anxious public.

“I’ve seen enough of the data of the Pfizer and Moderna product that I’m really convinced we’re dealing with a safe and effective vaccine,” he said. “I would be more than happy to, in a public arena, just so we have a picture taken, of me getting vaccinated.”

The CDC has strongly discouraged Americans from traveling over the holidays, a warning that has not been heeded by millions who took to the road and skies for Thanksgiving celebrations.

Fauci’s message has been one of patience, that the coming vaccines are a light at the end of a long tunnel, after eight months of restrictive public health guidelines.

In the Fauci household, Thanksgiving will be a dramatically different affair this year. Typically, he hosts the meal at his house, with his three daughters, some of their friends and his wife’s large family.

“There usually is a pretty full table. This year, it’s just my wife and I,” Fauci said. “My three adult daughters live in three separate cities, plane rides away.”

“What we’re going to do is my wife and I are going to order out again – because I want to support the local restaurants – order out, have a meal, put the Zoom on and eat and share a glass of wine with our three daughters,” he added. “My physical presence at a Thanksgiving meal are two people – my wife and I.”