Tensions between Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Republican Sen. Rand Paul came to a head on Wednesday during a testy exchange in a hearing about the novel coronavirus.
The exchange came after Paul, a vocal critic of lockdown measures put in place as a result of the pandemic, asked Fauci if he had "second thoughts" about the importance of lockdowns in mitigating the number of deaths and infections in the U.S.
"I don't regret saying that the only way we could have really stopped the explosion of infection was by essentially ... having the physical separation and the kinds of recommendations that we've made," said Fauci.
Paul, 57, continued questioning Fauci, alleging that the doctor has lauded New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for imposing harsh lockdown measures that Paul insinuated did little to stop the spread.
"How can we possibly be jumping up and down and saying, 'Oh Gov. Cuomo did a great job,' " said Paul. "He had the worst death rate in the world."
Erin Scott-Pool/Getty; AL DRAGO/POOL/AFP/Getty Dr. Anthony Fauci (left), Sen. Rand Paul
"No, you've misconstrued that senator and you've done that repetitively in the past," Fauci responded. "They got hit very badly. They made some mistakes. Right now, if you look at what's going on right now, the things going on in New York to get their test positivity one percent or less is because they are looking at the guidelines that we have put together from the task force of the four or five things of masks, social distancing, outdoors more than indoors, avoiding crowds and washing hands."
Paul interjected during Fauci's statement and said, "Or they have developed enough community immunity that they're no longer having the pandemic because they have enough immunity in New York City to actually stop."
"I challenge that, senator," Fauci responded. "Please sir, I would like to be able to do this, because this happens with Sen. Rand all the time. You are not listening to what the director of the CDC said, that in New York, it's about 22 percent. If you believe 22 percent is herd immunity, I believe you're alone in that."
Members of the medical community have championed Fauci's response. Yale professor and radiologist Dr. Howard Forman said of the exchange, "[Fauci] is not taking s--- from Rand Paul today.” Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, said Paul continues to share “nonsense that is largely incorrect,” while Fauci "patiently lays out the facts.”
This isn't the first time Paul and Fauci have sparred.
During a Senate committee hearing in May, Paul told Fauci, "I don't think you're the end-all," arguing that scientists shouldn't be the one to make decisions regarding school and business re-openings.
Paul has often floated the idea of herd immunity — which would allow society to freely spread the virus in the hopes of achieving natural immunity over time – rather than trying to reduce cases via shutdowns and social distancing.
Fauci, meanwhile, has warned that the approach could result in a deadlier public health crisis.
In March, Paul announced that he tested positive for COVID-19, just weeks after delaying and then voting against an $8 billion bipartisan emergency coronavirus pandemic aid bill, which eventually passed in the Senate.
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