The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and prominent White House voice in the fight against COVID-19 spoke with the Washington Post about his plans for his birthday, his usual birthday traditions, and what these past nine months have been like with more than 18 million cases and 321,000 deaths in America.
"There is no option to get tired. There is no option to sit down and say ‘I’m sorry, I’ve had enough,’ ” he said about the mentality forged from his beginnings as a young doctor in a New York City hospital.
Fauci, whose father lived to be 97, has worked every day since January but will take some time on Thursday to celebrate his milestone birthday with his wife of 35 years, Christine Grady.
He told the Washington Post he normally celebrates his birthday and Christmas Eve with an Italian dinner at the home of his sister in Alexandria, Virginia. In better days, he also marks the holiday by making timpano, an Italian pasta cake, with his family.
On Wednesday, members of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad and National Institutes of Health's Division of Fire and Rescue Services in Maryland surprised Fauci with a special serenade ahead of his birthday. Approximately 24 staffers lined up outside to sing "Happy Birthday" to the director as he was leaving NIH headquarters for the day.
Afterward, Fauci raised his hand and thanked the first responders and then asked if he could take a photo with them. The entire exchange was caught on video and shared on the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad's Facebook page. "Yesterday evening, crews from the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad along with the National Institutes of Health Fire Department stopped by the NIH campus to wish Dr. Fauci a happy birthday as he left work. Thank you to all of our neighbors at National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) for your support of the Rescue Squad and for everything you're doing to fight #COVID19. #WearAMask #tyfys #fauci," the squad shared in the video caption.
This year Fauci will be staying at home with his wife in Washington, D.C., as he follows the public health recommendations to limit travel and gatherings on the holiday to slow the spread of the virus. The couple and their three adult daughters will celebrate Christmas virtually on Zoom.
His 80th birthday comes two days after Fauci and other top government officials received their first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
"I feel extreme confidence in the safety and the efficacy of this vaccine and I want to encourage everyone who has the opportunity to get vaccinated so that we could have a veil of protection over this country that would end this pandemic," Fauci said publicly while getting the vaccine.
He also spoke about being elevated to a prominent public figure this year in his myriad interviews to keep the country informed about safety precautions during the pandemic. Fauci has also drawn criticism from President Donald Trump, who called him "a disaster" in November, which led to an increased security detail for him and his wife after threats from his supporters.
"On the one hand, I’m being adulated as this, you know, iconic figure, this person that everyone recognizes now, and knows. Which is fine. I can’t be distracted by that,” he told the Washington Post. “On the other hand, people have threatened my life and have harassed my wife and children and are still doing that. Public health measures have been swept up into the divisiveness of our society."
Fauci and Trump often clashed when Fauci corrected or disagreed with public statements made by the president about the virus.
“When (Trump) started to say things that were outright incorrect, I could not just stand there and shake my head and say it’s OK. I had to go to the microphone,” Fauci said. “I didn’t intend to be anti-Trump. You know? I maintained my apolitical position. But I couldn’t stand there and not say anything and being complicit in things that were completely untrue.”
With the constant pressure of his position, Fauci and Grady have used walks along the Potomac River as stress relievers while shadowed by a security detail.
"Clearly what drives him is his work, his mission, his feeling that he’s got really important things to do and he can contribute to them,” Grady told the Washington Post. “But I think what’s interesting about Tony that people may not know is that the things that make him happy are pretty simple things.”
When the pandemic is finally over, Fauci is hoping to get back to those simple things. He told Los Angeles radio station 94.7 The Wave last week that his first food order at the local bar after the pandemic will be a beer and a burger.
"And what I used to like a lot, was rather than go home and cook, on the way home stop at a favorite small restaurant or a bar and sit there and have a beer and a hamburger and just relax," he told the radio station. "I'd like to get back to that kind of normality, just to sort of reconnect with the way things were when they were normal."
There is still a long way to go, as Fauci and other top health experts have predicted that it won't be at least until late February or March that the general public can even start to get vaccinated.
"I could not have possibly made up a year as complicated as this,” he told the Washington Post.