WASHINGTON - Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said Friday he has not briefed President Donald Trump in at least two months and not seen him in person at the White House since June 2, despite a coronavirus resurgence that has strained hospitals and led several states to pause reopenings.
Fauci told the Financial Times he was "sure" his messages were sent to the president even though the two have not been in close contact in the past several weeks.
The comments from the Trump administration's director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases came as Trump has been critical of Fauci and spoken openly about issues on which they disagree.
In a Thursday interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity, Trump said Fauci had "made a lot of mistakes" but called him a "nice man." Trump also said "most cases" of coronavirus would "automatically cure. They automatically get better."
Also in the FT interview, Fauci said Trump was incorrect in claiming 99% of coronavirus cases were "harmless" and may have conflated some statistics.
"I'm trying to figure out where the president got that number," Fauci said. "What I think happened is that someone told him that the general mortality is about 1%. And he interpreted, therefore, that 99% is not a problem, when that's obviously not the case."
The fatality rate, or deaths divided by confirmed cases, is about 4.3%, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the death rate could vary and could be significantly lower if cases are undercounted because of the lack of testing. Close to 130,000 Americans have died as a result of the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins data, and coronavirus cases continue to rise across the country.
Close to 44,000 people are hospitalized with the coronavirus, according to the COVID Tracking Project's seven-day rolling average of hospitalizations.
Fauci responded to reports he had not appeared as often on television as he had earlier in the pandemic, saying his reputation for "speaking the truth at all times and not sugar-coating things" could be "one of the reasons why I haven't been on television very much lately."
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Asked in a Monday interview with "Fox and Friends" about Trump's claim that 99% of coronavirus cases were "harmless," White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said, "When you start to look at the stats and all the numbers that we have, the amount of testing that we have, the vast majority of people are safe from this."
"Outside of comorbidities" such as diabetes or hypertension, he added, the "risks are extremely low and the president's right with that, and the facts and the statistics back us up there."
A large proportion of the American population has comorbidities that put them at a higher risk for severe coronavirus cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 100 million Americans live with diabetes or prediabetes, and nearly half of Americans have high blood pressure. The prevalence of such conditions is higher in racial minority groups, which have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.
Fauci noted there was "extreme confusion" about the coronavirus' effects because it affected people so differently, telling the FT, "I have never seen a virus or any pathogen that has such a broad range of manifestations."
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Fauci also said Americans' distrust of authority made it hard to combat the pandemic and find a vaccine.
He cited the nation's forefathers' "general spirit" of not trusting authority. The founders "had the guts to come by boat from Europe and wherever else," he said.
That spirit had been taken to an "extreme," he said, laying "the foundation for the anti-vaccine movement, that we don't trust what the government is telling us. That is very, very problematic right now."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fauci says he hasn't briefed Trump in two months on COVID response