Dr. Anthony Fauci, the typically reserved infectious disease expert, put Sen. Rand Paul on blast during a testy congressional hearing Wednesday after the Kentucky Republican trash-talked New York’s coronavirus response.
Paul, who remains skeptical of face masks and social distancing despite contracting COVID-19 in March, posited the dubious argument that New York’s actually done a poor job fighting the virus and that the state’s only seeing low infectious rates at the moment because enough residents have been exposed to it and developed “community immunity.”
“How can we possibly be jumping up and down and saying, ‘Oh, Gov. Cuomo did a great job’ — he had the worst death rate in the world,” Paul said.
The Brooklyn-born doctor wouldn’t have any of Paul’s science-defying criticism of his home state.
“You misconstrued that, senator, and you’ve done that repetitively in the past,” Fauci said.
The doctor explained that New York’s death toll is particularly high because it “got hit very badly” at the outset of the pandemic, when “some mistakes” were made because very little was known about the virus.
Fast-forward to today, New York is seeing infection rates near 1% or lower because guidelines on disinfection, face masks and social distancing are being rigorously followed, Fauci said.
“Or they’ve developed enough community immunity that they’re no longer having the pandemic,” Paul interrupted.
“I challenge that, senator,” Fauci fired back, prompting Paul to try to interject again.
“Please, sir, I would like to be able to do this because this happens with Sen. Rand all the time,” Fauci said.
Turning to Paul, he continued, “You are not listening to what the director of the CDC said — that in New York about 22% of the population have contracted the virus.
“If you believe 22% is herd immunity, I believe you are alone,” Fauci added.
Though Paul and some others on the right insist that herd immunity is a viable strategy for fighting the virus, infectious disease experts have warned that there’s no evidence that it actually works. In fact, researchers recently said it appears people can contract COVID-19 more than once, a finding that would render the concept of herd immunity moot.
But Paul, who used to work as an eye doctor, refused to give up.
“There’s a possibility that virtually everything he’s recommended hasn’t worked,” Paul told reporters of Fauci after leaving the hearing room. “He brags about how great New York did, he loves Gov. Cuomo’s response — New York had the biggest spike in the entire world.”
Cuomo adviser Rich Azzopardi gave Fauci a pat on the back for putting Paul in his place.
“Paul has been politicizing this pandemic since Day 1, hiding behind his white coat while rejecting science and actually putting his colleagues in danger by exposing them to COVID,” Azzopardi said in an email. “Good for Dr. Fauci for exposing this quack.”
Wednesday’s hearing came as the U.S. coronavirus death toll soared above 201,000, making it by the far the worst national tally in the world.
Also at the hearing was Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who said his agency has determined that “more than 90%” of the U.S. population remains susceptible to the virus.
“We want all Americans, all Americans, to embrace wearing a face mask, be smart about social distancing in crowds, wash their hands,” Redfield said. “If we all wore a mask, and we were smart about social distancing, as Dr. Fauci alluded to, this outbreak would really start to come to under control.”
Despite Redfield’s plea, President Donald Trump continues to question the importance of masks while downplaying the severity of the virus. At a campaign rally just this week, Trump claimed the virus “affects virtually nobody,” even as the country’s death toll approached the tragic 200,000 mark.
Redfield and Fauci reiterated in the Wednesday hearing that a vaccine is ultimately the only permanent fix to COVID-19. But they warned that a vaccine will likely not be ready before the end of the year, breaking with Trump, who keeps insisting that a cure could be available by Election Day.
“We feel cautiously optimistic that we will be able to have a safe and effective vaccine, although there is never a guarantee of that,” Fauci said.
On vaccines, he added, “There is no cutting corners.”
©2020 New York Daily News