During the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, fielded thousands of emails from people far and wide — from a top Chinese health official to the National Football League Players Association, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post and Buzzfeed through Freedom of Information Act requests.
Among the 3,200 pieces of correspondence was a list of six pointed questions from an unnamed person in the U.S. Army Surgeon General’s Office.
“I have been in the government nearly thirty-four years and this is new to me,” wrote the service member, identified as the office’s antiterrorism and insider threat officer. “You are the voice of reason for millions of concerned citizens. I have a few questions for you.”
“How do you recommend I reassure our staff on dealing with the stressors of COVID-19?”
“Can COVID-19 be contracted from a corpse?”
“Are masks and gloves truly effective? If so, why are so many medical professionals contracting the virus?”
The remaining questions were about hydroxychloroquine — the anti-malaria drug that was being touted at the time by President Donald Trump as a coronavirus treatment — social distancing and “what keeps [Fauci] up at night.”
Fauci forwarded the questions to Dr. Andrea Lerner, a medical officer in the Office of the Chief of Staff of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, with a request she “fashion” answers for a response.
In response, Lerner — and Fauci — laid out their reasons for recommending social distancing; personal protective equipment, including masks; and taking precautions, even with a dead person.
Yes, you can get the coronavirus from a corpse: “Infection control measures should be undertaken when dealing with deceased individuals with known or suspected COVID-19,” they wrote.
Yes, masks and gloves work: “I believe infection control strategies which include proper use of personal protective equipment as recommended by the CDC are effective … healthcare workers on the frontlines can be exposed if they encounter a patient who is not initially suspected of having COVID-19 without PPE.”
The jury was out on hydroxychloroquine: “Clinical trials are underway to determine if hydroxychloroquine is effective in preventing COVID-19 in exposed individuals. Until we know the answer to this question, persons who take hydroxychloroquine for another medical condition should consider themselves vulnerable to COVID-19.”
(The NIH halted its clinical trial of the medication on people hospitalized for COVID-19 two months later, concluding the drug provided no clinical benefit.)
Besides social distancing, Fauci recommended that everyone continue washing their hands, using hand sanitizer and avoid touching their faces without washing their hands when they’d been out in public.
The trove of emails provides a glimpse into the busy days of the most famous public health professional during the pandemic, whose advice, recommendations and expertise continue to draw fans and foes.
“Keep being a science truth teller,” Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., told Fauci in one of the emails.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said the emails show Fauci had concerns early on about the coronavirus and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where research is conducted on pathogens, including coronaviruses, and he expressed concerns that Fauci and others had a conflict of interest
“He was so naïve that we shouldn’t have Dr. Fauci in a position of advising the U.S., the world or anyone else because he has shown such poor decision-making,” Paul told Fox News Thursday.
Fauci told the antiterrorism and insider threat officer that what keeps him up at night was the disaster that was unfolding as they corresponded.
“I have said in the past that what keeps me up at night is the possibility of a pandemic respiratory infection. We are in that reality now,” he wrote.
— Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.
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