One year into the coronavirus pandemic, a “worst nightmare” that came true for Dr. Anthony Fauci, relief is on the horizon — but even the nation’s top infectious disease expert didn’t imagine the crisis would have continued for this long.
“COVID is completely different than anything I’ve ever had any experience with,” said Fauci, speaking virtually during a Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series Monday, where he was presented with the Tufts University presidential medal for his contributions to society.
Coronavirus has sickened 29 million Americans and killed 525,000 just one year after the world ground to a halt in its grip.
Over the course of his extensive career, Fauci has helped to battle HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Zika and several other infectious diseases, but he said coronavirus has been “truly historic in its proportions,” with nothing even close to its severity since the influenza pandemic of 1918.
Fauci said as an infectious disease expert, people have often asked him what type of outbreak would keep him up at night.
“It turns out that in January of 2020, my worst nightmare came true. And we’ve been living it for over a year,” Fauci said.
The nightmarish components of coronavirus include its incredible efficiency in transmission, asymptomatic spread and its high degree of morbidity and mortality.
“Usually a disease that can really kill a half a million people makes almost everybody a little bit sick, but that’s not the case with COVID-19,” Fauci said of the asymptomatic spread.
Fauci said that he never imagined a year later, the globe would still be locked down with economies destroyed.
“I thought at worst we’d have a bad rest of the winter and then as we got into the warm weather in the summer, things would calm down a bit,” Fauci said.
Even if government officials handled everything perfectly, “we still would have a really serious problem, no doubt,” he said.
But, he said, the United States was experiencing a “double whammy” as the pandemic occurred during some of the worst divisive political times, making it very hard to pull together and defeat the virus.
“The idea of the complete distortion of reality is something that is mindboggling — how so many people can have a reality distortion syndrome that, you know, when you’re a scientist it’s sort of antithetical for what you stand for,” Fauci said.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease director declined to rehash the days of the Trump administration, during which time he said anecdotes were considered equally with scientific data.
“I did not like at all the fact that I had to, under certain circumstances, contradict the president,” he said.
But, he said he chose not to step down. “I thought if I did it would make matters worse,” Fauci said.
The United States is making strides in returning to normalcy due to public health measures and distribution of vaccines, which has now reached upwards of two million doses administered per day.
Fauci has previously said he will continue to do his job at the NIAID until he feels he no longer can perform his best work.