Fauci Says He Told Trump to 'Shut the Country Down'

Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government's top infectious disease specialist, said he advised the president to "shut the country down" in the earlier stages of the pandemic. He said this was the most significant decision he has taken during the COVID-19 pandemic during a virtual Q&A session hosted by the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts on Tuesday.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, was responding to a question from one student regarding his most crucial decision of the pandemic.

"It was a decision to make a recommendation to the president," Fauci said. "It wasn't my decision that I could implement."

"When it became clear that we had community spread in the country, with a few cases of community spread—this was way before there was a major explosion like we saw in the northeastern corridor driven by New York City metropolitan area—I recommended to the president that we shut the country down.

"That was a very difficult decision because I knew it would have very serious economic consequences, which it did. But there was no way to stop the explosive spread that we knew would occur if we didn't do that."

The United States has been the worst-hit country in the world during the pandemic, with more than 7.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 210,900 deaths, figures from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center show.

Fauci said that not shutting down the country "completely" enabled the virus to spread in some areas.

States across the country have taken vastly different approaches to tackling the pandemic in the absence of national-level coronavirus restrictions.

"Unfortunately, since we actually did not shut down completely, the way China did, the way Korea did, the way Taiwan did, we actually did see spread even though we shut down," Fauci said.

"If you look at the things that, for example, have happened in the southern part of the country—in Florida, Texas, Georgia, Arizona and California—where they had a big spike in infection when they tried to so-called 'open up carefully,' there were so many people in society who were just not paying attention to the public health guidelines and you saw the pictures in the media, crowded bars, no masks indoors—I mean that's a perfect recipe for disaster."

Fauci said that we are currently "living through history" given the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. "This is really the most extraordinary, devastating respiratory disease pandemic in the last 102 years since the now historic and iconic 1918 so-called Spanish flu, which devastated the globe with between 50 and 100 million deaths," he said.

Anthony Fauci
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, looks on before testifying at a Senate Health, Education, and Labor and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill, on September 23, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Fauci said advising the president to shut down the country was a "very difficult decision." Graeme Jennings- Pool/Getty Images