Dr. Anthony Fauci has opened up about receiving death threats for the past 10 months, including a frightening incident with an unknown powder that covered him after he opened an envelope.
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and public face of the federal government's coronavirus response spoke to The New York Times about the challenges he faced while serving under former President Donald Trump during the pandemic.
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The head of his Secret Service detail said he began receiving death threats on March 28, about two weeks after he was given a security detail. His family also began to receive direct threats.
"It was the harassment of my wife, and particularly my children, that upset me more than anything else," Fauci said. "They knew where my kids work, where they live. The threats would come directly to my children’s phones, directly to my children’s homes.
"How the hell did whoever these a------- were get that information? And there was chatter on the internet, people talking to each other, threatening, saying, 'Hey, we got to get rid of this guy. What are we going to do about him? He’s hurting the president’s chances.' You know, that kind of right-wing craziness."
Fauci, 80, has faced backlash for promoting public safety during the pandemic to the point where he needs to have federal agents with him when he goes for a walk. Trump publicly disparaged him on multiple occasions and had crowds chanting "Fire Fauci!" at rallies.
While he was never physically confronted by anyone, he did detail a particularly harrowing moment.
"One day I got a letter in the mail, I opened it up and a puff of powder came all over my face and my chest," he said. "That was very, very disturbing to me and my wife because it was in my office.
"So I just looked at it all over me and said, 'What do I do?' The security detail was there, and they’re very experienced in that. They said, 'Don’t move, stay in the room.' And they got the hazmat people. So they came, they sprayed me down and all that."
Thankfully the substance was found to be harmless after testing, but it left Fauci shaken.
"It was a benign nothing," he said. "But it was frightening. My wife and my children were more disturbed than I was. I looked at it somewhat fatalistically. It had to be one of three things: A hoax. Or anthrax, which meant I’d have to go on Cipro for a month. Or if it was ricin, I was dead, so bye-bye."
Fauci is now serving as chief medical adviser to the new administration led by President Joe Biden, marking the seventh president he has worked under during his career.
"The idea that you can get up here and you can talk about what you know, what evidence, what the science is, and know that’s it — let the science speak. It is somewhat of a liberating feeling,” Fauci said on Jan. 21 in his first White House press briefing when discussing the difference between working under Trump and Biden.
He also talked about having to often refute the accuracy of Trump's public statements about certain drugs, treatments or other pandemic-related topics.
"It was very clear that there were things that were said, be it regarding things like hydroxychloroquine and other things like that, that really (were) uncomfortable because they were not based on scientific fact,” Fauci said. “I can tell you, I take no pleasure at all in being in a situation of contradicting the president, so it was really something that you didn’t feel that you could actually say something and there wouldn’t be any repercussions about it."
Fauci also gave an update on the fight against the pandemic in an appearance on TODAY Monday. The seven-day average of cases across the country has dropped 30% and hospitalizations are down, but Fauci believes the true influence of getting more people vaccinated has not been felt yet.
"I don't think the dynamics of what we're seeing now with the plateauing is significantly influenced yet," he told Savannah Guthrie. "It will be soon, but yet, by the vaccine, I just think it's just the natural course of plateauing."
A more contagious strain of the virus that was first found in the United Kingdom has now appeared in more than 20 states, which has become another concern of public health officials. The strain also may potentially be more deadly, according to preliminary data from U.K. scientists.
"Taking a look at the preliminary data, I'm pretty convinced that there is a degree of increase in seriousness of the actual infection, which we really have to keep an eye on," Fauci said.
He also addressed people starting to wear two masks or medical-grade N95 masks as the more contagious strain spreads around the country.
"It just makes common sense that it likely will be more effective, and that's why you see people either double masking or doing a version of an N95," he said.