Timeline of What Dr. Fauci Has Said About the Wuhan Lab and COVID's Origins

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is being criticized for what some perceive to be flip-flopping on how the COVID-19 pandemic originated.

Fauci has faced backlash for adjusting his stance on the COVID-19 response over the course of the pandemic, including the issue of mask-wearing, but has defended changing his views as knowledge of the virus evolved. Having once dismissed the possibility that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the source of the novel coronavirus as a "circular argument," his admission this month that the lab could be the starting point prompted criticism.

Some used Fauci's recent comments about the potential of a lab being the source of COVID-19 as a means of maligning his credibility. Fauci, however, denied he switched his stance on the origin, telling a reporter on Monday that he still believes it's a naturally occurring virus but since it can't be fully proven, he's open to investigating other theories.

Below, a timeline of some of Fauci's comments about the origin of the novel coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2.

April 3, 2020

Context: In the early days of the pandemic, the predominant origin theory was that the outbreak began in a wet market in Wuhan, China. During an interview with Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade asked if Fauci would call for wet markets to close.

"I think we should shut down those things right away. It boggles my mind how, when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human-animal interface, that we don't just shut it down," Fauci told Kilmeade. "What we're going through right now is a direct result of that."

April 17, 2020

Context: A reporter at a White House press briefing asked Fauci what the prospects are of the virus being manmade and possibly coming from a lab in China.

"There was a study recently that we can make available to you, where a group of highly qualified evolutionary virologists looked at the sequences [of the novel coronavirus] and the sequences in bats as they evolve. And the mutations that it took to get to the point where it is now is totally consistent with a jump of a species from an animal to a human."

May 4, 2020

Context: In a National Geographic interviewFauci was asked if he believed or if there was evidence the virus was made in the lab or accidentally released from the lab.

"There's two issues. If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats, and what's out there now it's very, very strongly leaning toward this [virus] could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated—the way the mutations have naturally evolved. A number of very qualified evolutionary biologists have said that everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that it evolved in nature and then jumped species," Fauci said.

"If it isn't manipulated in the lab and you're trying to say it escaped from the lab, then how did it get in the lab? It got in the lab because somebody isolated it from the environment. That's why I don't spend a lot of time in that circular argument," he added.

fauci covid-19 origin lab natural
Dr. Anthony Fauci is facing criticism for leaving the door open to the possibility COVID-19 originated in a lab after calling it a "circular argument" last year. Above, he speaks during a Senate hearing on May 11 at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Greg Nash/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

January 19, 2021

Context: During an interview with WMBD, Fauci was asked what he hopes a World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origin finds and what they're looking for.

"You want to find out the origin, how did that happen. The obvious thing if it is anything like SARS, which we saw come about in 2002, it was felt to be a jumping of species ... that's how we got that infection ... also MERS was felt to go from a bat to a camel to human so we really need to know what the origin of this was? Was it an animal species that it jumped from and if so, how?"

March 26, 2021

Context: At a White House press briefing, Fauci was asked to respond to former CDC Director Robert Redfield stating that it's his opinion that COVID-19 originated at a Wuhan lab.

"Okay, so when you think about the possibilities of how this virus appeared in the human population, obviously there are a number of theories. The issue that would have someone think it's possible to have escaped from a lab would mean that it essentially entered the outside human population already well adapted to humans, suggesting that it was adapted in the lab," Fauci said.

He added: "However, the alternative explanation, which most public health individuals go by, is that this virus was actually circulating in China, likely in Wuhan, for a month or more before they were clinically recognized at the end of December of 2019. If that were the case, the virus clearly could have adapted itself to a greater efficiency of transmissibility over that period of time up to and at the time it was recognized."

March 29, 2021

Context: Ahead of the release of a WHO-China joint mission report on the origin of COVID-19, Fauci told the Associated Press he needed more information before he could speak to the report's credibility.

"I'd also would like to inquire as to the extent in which the people who were on that group had access directly to the data that they would need to make a determination," he said. "I want to read the report first and then get a feel for what they really had access to—or did not have access to."

May 11, 2021

Context: During a Senate committee hearing, Senator Rand Paul asked Fauci if he can categorically say that COVID-19 could not have occurred through serial passage in a laboratory.

"I do not have any accounting of what the Chinese may have done and I am fully in favor of any further investigation of what went on in China," Fauci said.

Senator Roger Marshall also asked Fauci if it's possible the novel coronavirus was the result of a lab accident and if it should be fully investigated.

"That possibility certainly exists, and I am totally in favor of a full investigation of whether that could have happened," Fauci responded.

Marshall then asked if it's possible the virus is not naturally occurring.

"That is a possibility," Fauci said. "I don't know if we're ever going to be able to prove that, but you always need to open up and leave all possibilities, which is why I and so many of my colleagues are in favor of what the WHO said, that they want to go back and take another look in there and see what was going on in that lab."

May 11, 2021

Context: At a "United Facts of America: A Festival of Fact-Checking" event, PolitiFact's Kate Sanders asked if he was "still confident" that COVID-19 developed naturally.

"No, actually ... I am not convinced about that, I think we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we continue to find out to the best of our ability what happened," Fauci replied. "Certainly, the people who investigated it say it likely was the emergence from an animal reservoir that then infected individuals, but it could have been something else, and we need to find that out. So, you know, that's the reason why I said I'm perfectly in favor of any investigation that looks into the origin of the virus."

May 24, 2021

Context: A summarized conversation he had with CBS News
Senior White House Correspondent Weijia Jiang, which she posted on Twitter.

Fauci believes it's "highly likely" that COVID-19 occurred naturally before spreading from animal to human, Jiang noted. He is open to a thorough investigation, though, because no one is 100 percent sure.

"Dr. Fauci said that does not mean he believes the virus first emerged in a lab, as some have suggested," Jiang added.

May 25, 2021

Context: During a White House COVID-19 response briefing, a reporter asked Fauci what his "latest thoughts" were on whether COVID-19 could have escaped from a lab.

"As I've said many times: Many of us feel that it is more likely that this is a natural occurrence, as has happened with SARS-CoV-1, where it goes from an animal reservoir to a human. But we don't know 100 percent the answer to that," Fauci said. "So, because we don't know 100 percent what the origin is, it's imperative that we look and we do an investigation."

June 3, 2021

Context: Thousands of Fauci's emails were released as the result of a Freedom of Information Act and some called into question his early dismissal of the lab leak theory.

"I still believe the most likely origin is from an animal species to a human but I keep an absolutely open mind that there may be other origins ... It could have been a lab leak," Fauci told CNN. "I think if you look historically what happens in the animal-human interface that the more likelihood is that you're dealing with a jump of species."

Fauci appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe as well, where he told co-host Willie Geist that he didn't agree with an April 2020 comment from Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institue of Health, that the lab leak theory was a "conspiracy theory."

"We didn't know and we still don't know what the origin is. If you look historically in the way things rolled out we all felt and still do actually that it is more likely to be a natural jumping of species from an animal reservoir to a human. However, since we don't know that for sure, you've gotta keep an open mind. So you could say that you think one thing is more likely than the other but the fact that it could have been something else clearly was there," Fauci said.

This article will be updated as more information becomes available.

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