The early portion of this morning’s Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pension (HELP) Committee hearing didn’t produce the communication bombshells some had anticipated when a NY Times article late last evening revealed a portion of Dr. Anthony Fauci’s messaging strategy. On the other hand, it allowed Fauci to speak his mind, highlighting points of divergence with President Trump's communication about the virus.
Fauci delivered sober remarks, but did so calmly. In addition, his words weren't personal or malicious. The administration's top infectious diseases expert withheld names and direct criticism. He made points succinctly and in plain language, putting him in good stead with PR best practices.
In contrast to comments that president Trump made late last month and at the start of the outbreak, Fauci said the virus will not disappear. “I am convinced that’s just not going to happen,” he told Senator Bernie Sanders.
He added that “it’s entirely possible” there will be a second wave of the virus in the fall. He expects, though, that the country will be much better prepared with testing and contact tracing to combat it than it was during the initial outbreak.
Foreshadowed in the Times' article, Fauci's main message was that states and localities are skipping checkpoints that the White House Coronavirus Task Force recommended last month for reopening. The level-one checkpoint, Fauci said, includes a 14-day decrease in cases. It also presupposes local medical facilities can handle a coronavirus spike.
It’s “inevitable” that infections will return, to some extent, with reopening, he said. “There is no doubt even under the best of circumstances when you pull back on mitigation, you will see some cases appear.”
By contrast, the president has pushed for a quick economic restart, seeming to ignore the rise in deaths and signs that the pandemic is ebbing.
Should localities fail to heed that first checkpoint, “the consequences could be really serious,” Fauci said.
The small spikes owing to reopening could lead to larger outbreaks. These larger outbreaks could retard the economy, Fauci. "It's like turning back the clock."
In addition, Fauci told Sanders "most of us feel" the number of virus deaths probably is higher than reported. This is due to people who died at home at the beginning of the outbreak, "particularly in NYC," Fauci said. “Yes, the number will be higher…I don’t know how much higher.”
Mortality of Children
A semi-heated exchange occurred when Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) labeled Dr. Fauci as the “be-all and end-all” on coronavirus. You shouldn’t be allowed to make all the decisions, he added. Next, Paul advocated that school districts, not the federal government, should decide whether or not to reopen schools. Paul said Sweden’s children are in school and the rate of "mortality" there is acceptable.
Demonstrating several PR best practices, Fauci kept his cool and proceeded to offer his narrative. Fauci said, “I have never made myself out to be the be-all and only voice in this. I am a scientist, a physician and a public health official…I don’t offer guidance” on other things, like the economy.
Je Ne Sais Pas
Another PR best practice: admit what you don't know. Fauci underlined that “I am humble…and know that there is a lot about this virus” that we don’t know.
Similarly, he displayed humility in critiquing Paul's recitation of medical knowledge about the virus, though Fauci did so diplomatically. Paul is an ophthalmologist.
I would not “cavalierly” reopen schools, Fauci said after Paul's lengthy critique of Fauci's influence. Certainly, in terms of mortality numbers, children do “much, much better” than adults and older adults, Fauci admitted. Still, children have begun to present with an unseen syndrome. “So I want to be very careful [with recommendations for children], because there is a lot we don’t know.”
From a Distance
The hearing was held in the Senate Dirksen Office Building on Capitol Hill, though all the witnesses and some of the senators, including chairman Lamar Alexander, joined the hearing from remote locations. CDC chief Dr. Robert Redfield, FDA commissioner Dr. Steven Hahn and Admiral Brett Giroir (M.D.) of the US Public Health Service joined Fauci as witnesses.
Fauci, Hahn and Redfield are self-quarantining owing to possible exposure to a White House employee who's tested positive.
This article is part of PRNEWS' ongoing daily COVID-19 coverage