Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and one of the main scientific touchstones amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, will receive increased personal security protection after getting threats and unwelcome messages due to his leading role in the nation’s fight against the novel coronavirus.
Both The Washington Post and The New York Times reported late Wednesday that Fauci, 79, had been granted enhanced security by the Department of Health and Human Services. The shift comes as Fauci has issued increasingly dire warnings urging Americans to practice social distancing and that the worst is yet to come even after weeks of instability both at home and abroad.
“Yesterday, upon the recommendation of the U.S. Marshals Service, the department approved the special deputization request from H.H.S. for nine ... special agents to provide protective services for Dr. Fauci,” the Justice Department said in a statement to the Times.
It’s unclear what type of threats Fauci has received, although he has already become a target for right-wing conspiracy theories. But Alex Azar, the HHS secretary who has his own detail, has reportedly grown concerned about the rise in Fauci’s profile in recent weeks.
The doctor has managed to maintain the president’s support even though he has to regularly interject and temper Trump’s statements on topics including the timeline for any type of coronavirus vaccine.
On Tuesday, Fauci warned that between 100,000 and 240,000 people in the U.S. could die even if current guidelines are maintained, a figure that sent shockwaves through the president’s plans to “open up” the country by Easter. Trump ultimately extended social distancing measures 30 days until the end of April.
More than 216,000 people have been infected with the virus in the U.S. and deaths have surged past 4,600, with some officials comparing the pandemic’s effects in America to those seen several weeks ago in Italy.
“We are continuing to see things go up,” Fauci said Tuesday. “We cannot be discouraged by that because the mitigation is actually working and will work.”
The fact-checking of the president and his dire predictions have already resulted in online trolls falsely claiming that Fauci is part of the “deep state” working to undermine the administration.
Fauci declined to speak about the increased protection during a press briefing on Wednesday, but Trump interjected to say the doctor didn’t “need security.”
“Everybody loves him,” Trump said.
During a Thursday morning appearance on NBC’s “Today Show,” Fauci told host Savannah Guthrie that he doesn’t intend to let the threats distract him.
“I’ve chosen this life. I mean, I know what it is,” Fauci said. “There are things about it that are sometimes disturbing. But you just focus on the job you have to do, and just put all that stuff aside and try as best as possible not to pay attention to it.”
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