WASHINGTON – Peter Navarro, a senior trade adviser to President Donald Trump, has taken aim at Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a member of the president’s coronavirus task force.
Navarro wrote an opinion piece in USA TODAY that was initially published Tuesday night – and then the next morning in print – as an “opposing view” to a newspaper editorial that hailed Fauci a “national treasure” and that said efforts by President Donald Trump or his team to muzzle Fauci would be hazardous.
Bill Sternberg, USA TODAY’s editorial page editor, said editors approached Navarro about writing the opposing view. The newspaper has a tradition of offering opposing views to its editorials. Some of the comments Navarro made echoed ones he had made earlier about Fauci.
The White House, which had not repudiated Navarro’s earlier comments, sought to distance itself from Navarro’s opinion piece, with director of strategic communications Alyssa Farah writing on Twitter that it was “the opinion of Peter alone.” Trump has insisted he has a “very good relationship” with Fauci but has also criticized him. However, on Wednesday Trump said of the Navarro piece, “he shouldn’t be doing that.”
The following is a fact check by USA TODAY on what was written by Navarro, who directs the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy.
NAVARRO CLAIM: Dr. Anthony Fauci has a good bedside manner with the public, but he has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.
In late January, when I was making the case on behalf of the president to take down the flights from China, Fauci fought against the president’s courageous decision – which might well have saved hundreds of thousands of American lives.
FACTS: Trump and his supporters have touted the restrictions on travel from China as a travel ban but the move stopped short of that. As Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters Jan. 31, the country was denying entry to foreign nationals, “other than immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, who have traveled in China within the last 14 days.”
In addition, experts said there isn’t enough data to conclude the restrictions made a significant difference. A study in the Journal Science found the various travel limitations across the globe helped slow the spread of the pandemic but more was needed to contain it.
In fact, on Jan. 24, a week before the implementation of travel restrictions, the first two COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the U.S. from travelers who had returned from Wuhan, China, where the outbreak is suspected of originating. Although Fauci and other public health officials were initially skeptical of travel bans because of concerns that they might limit the movement of health professionals, he later backed the decision.
NAVARRO CLAIM: When I warned in late January in a memo of a possibly deadly pandemic, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases was telling the news media not to worry.
When I was working feverishly on behalf of the president in February to help engineer the fastest industrial mobilization of the health care sector in our history, Fauci was still telling the public the China virus was low risk.
FACTS: There’s no evidence of a large-scale effort by the Trump administration to mobilize supplies for the pandemic as early as February, although experts contend that a forceful response then would likely have limited the spread and saved lives.
Trump said little in public about the virus during that time period and downplayed the threat. On Feb. 10, he predicted that the coronavirus would be gone by April when the weather gets warmer and said the virus will “miraculously” go away.. Congress passed the first meaningful spending bill to address the crisis March 4 – an $8.3 billion package to ramp up testing that was more than triple the amount the White House initially requested.
And it wasn’t until March 13 that Trump declared a national emergency.
In a meeting with the USA TODAY editorial board on Feb. 17, Fauci did say the risk for Americans appeared “relatively low” but he warned that could change and officials needed to be prepared.
“As of today, on the 17th of February, the risk is really relatively low,” he said. “But we, the public health officials, have to take this seriously enough to be prepared for it changing and there being a pandemic.”
NAVARRO CLAIM: When we were building new mask capacity in record time, Fauci was flip-flopping on the use of masks.
FACTS: From the outset, Fauci said people who were contagious should wear masks but, like others and consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, did not say everyone should wear masks, even if they didn’t have symptoms. On Feb. 17, weeks before the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, Fauci told USA TODAY that “in the United States, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to wear a mask.”
At the time, testing was almost non-existent and the nature of the virus was still being determined. Fauci has since said that part of the reason for his position was to tamp down a public rush that would have further exacerbated a shortage of masks. On Feb. 29, Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweeted that people should “STOP BUYING MASKS” because they had not been shown to be effective in preventing the general public from getting the virus and a rush to buy them was leaving healthcare providers without them.
More recently, Fauci and other public health experts have been urging mask-wearing as a means to help prevent the spread of the virus – while continuing to urge frequent hand washing and social distancing..
NAVARRO CLAIM: And when Fauci was telling the White House Coronavirus Task Force that there was only anecdotal evidence in support of hydroxychloroquine to fight the virus, I confronted him with scientific studies providing evidence of safety and efficacy. A recent Detroit hospital study showed a 50% reduction in the mortality rate when the medicine is used in early treatment.
FACTS: Most medical studies have shown hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, not only to be generally ineffective against COVID-19 but to also pose harmful side effects. The Food and Drug Administration warns on its web site that those threats include serious heart rhythm problems and other safety issues, including blood and lymph system disorders, kidney injuries, and liver problems and failure.
The Henry Ford study Navarro refers to has been criticized by a number of medical experts because patients who benefited also were given a steroid known to help those suffering from the infection and because the study was observational..
NAVARRO CLAIM: Now Fauci says a falling mortality rate doesn’t matter when it is the single most important statistic to help guide the pace of our economic reopening. The lower the mortality rate, the faster and more we can open.
FACTS: In a July 8 press conference with Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., Fauci described the declining death rate as a “false narrative (because) there’s so many other things that are very dangerous and bad about this virus. Don’t get yourself into false complacency.”
The death rate began declining in mid-April but has been ticking up again recently, a result of a surge in cases across Sun Belt states such as Florida, Texas and Arizona – an increase Fauci and other medical experts cited as a risk.
In addition, while treatments have helped lower the death rate, doctors are finding that the virus carries long-term complications for a significant percentage of patients, especially those with underlying conditions.
Contributing: Ken Alltucker