After Trump Downplayed COVID, Fauci Says 'Totally Nonsense' to Withhold Information to Avoid Alarming People

Anthony Fauci has said the idea of holding back information from the public during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic to avoid causing alarm is "totally nonsense." The White House coronavirus task force member made the comments after President Donald Trump said he downplayed the severity of the pandemic so as not to spark panic.

Fauci, who has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) for almost four decades, made the comments in an interview with Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) on October 13. The non-profit watchdog, Project On Government Oversight (POGO), claimed the footage was released publicly upon its request. POGO later updated its piece to clarify CIGIE planned to make the video publicly available before the watchdog's queries.

The infectious disease expert was asked why transparency of public health information, including positive test results, hospital capacity, and mortality rates, are important for the response to COVID-19 and his job.

Fauci replied: "Oh my goodness it's absolutely essential." He said that "everything has got to be transparent" in order to make public health recommendations based on science.

"Otherwise once you lose the confidence of people, that they don't believe what you're saying, or they believe you're holding things back, or they believe there's a political motivation to things."

Without referring to any individuals or situations, Fauci said those in government must admit "that there is a building of mistrust now in the transparency of what we do. It's the elephant in the room, if we deny it we're not being realistic."

He said: "If you go back over outbreaks in the past, the one thing that has always prevailed as the things that make things work is when people are open and honest and don't hold information back. The issue, that people say 'you don't want to alarm people,' is totally nonsense."

Harking back to past events in U.S. history, including economic depressions, anthrax attacks and outbreaks of disease, Fauci said, "The thing that gets people spooked is when they don't know what's going on. Not when you tell them what's going on. We're a pretty strong country, we can handle the truth."

Fauci's remarks come after Trump told Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward in an interview in March, which was released in September: "I wanted to always play [coronavirus] down. I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."

In an interview on February 7, Trump acknowledged to Woodward that the virus was highly transmissible and deadly. At a rally in New Hampshire three days later, Trump said, "I think it's going to all work out fine."

Responding to reports of the interview at the time, Trump described himself as a "cheerleader for this country."

He said: "I love our country and I don't want people to be frightened, I don't want to create panic, as you say, and certainly I'm not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy. We want to show confidence, we want to show strength, we want to show strength as a nation."

In recent weeks, the relationship between the NIAID director and the president has appeared strained, after the Republican party used his quotes in a campaign ad. Fauci said he did not give his permission to use his words, which he said was taken out of context, to be featured in the ad.

On Monday, President Donald Trump told campaign staff in a call: "People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots."

Asked to respond to the president's remarks in an interview with the KNX1070 radio station, Fauci said he did not want to comment. He said: "[Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic is] the only thing I really care about. That other stuff, it's like in The Godfather: Nothing personal, strictly business as far as I'm concerned. I just want to do my job and take care of the people of this country."

This article has been updated to reflect that POGO clarified in an article on its website that CIGIE planned to make the Fauci interview publicly available before its request.

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Anthony Fauci testifies during a Senate committee hearing on COVID-19, on September 23, 2020. He highlighted the importance of transparency during crises in an interview last week. GRAEME JENNINGS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images