"I don't think people can really fully appreciate the extraordinary effort of these people. It's amazing," Fauci said during the daily White House COVID-19 briefing on Saturday.
As director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, he reflected on his experience treating patients during the AIDS epidemic in the United States.
"I did all of my medical training in New York City in a big, busy New York City hospital at a time when it was just what you normally see in a hospital," Fauci, 79, said. "I came to NIH and I spent about five to eight years in the very early years of the AIDS epidemic, which was just the darkest years of my life because almost every single one of my patients died."
While Fauci said he knew at the time there was little risk of being infected by an AIDS patient, he wants people to understand the magnitude of the job health care workers are doing right now, especially fighting a virus as contagious as the coronavirus.
"To see now what these brave warriors are doing in the hospitals, not only giving life-saving treatment to people, but every single day putting themselves at risk for themselves and their family, I just think that the American public owe a phenomenal debt of gratitude for these people," Fauci said. "They should just salute them in every way they can."
He likened medical workers to soldiers and reminded people of a time during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq when people would clap when walking by a service member in uniform at the airport.
"I think that's what we should do when we see healthcare workers," he said. "Just applaud them."