The COVID-19 crisis grinds on. Social distancing is now an accepted fact of life— indeed, it may be the thing that keeps lots of people alive period. The American people are taking to their homes and washing their hands and cleaning everything around them. There is hope that we are reducing the number of cases, which also means the number of casualties, that we will see in the days ahead. We are not accustomed to such restrictions. We are not used to having to endure much unpleasantness for any protracted length of time. We are surviving, even though we are stressed to an unprecedented level.
We are doing this largely on the advice of one man—Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases. Dr. Fauci has been in this position since 1984. He has advised six presidents on public health including the HIV/Aids crisis, the Ebola outbreak, ZIKA, and other episodes. His list of awards and recognitions is too long to note here. He is respected in his ﬁeld and has presented research around the globe. He does not appear to be his 79 years, and his vitality and energy are evident. He has devoted his whole life to studying and understanding how the human body works, especially the human immune system. It would take many pages to adequately highlight Fauci’s contributions and career.*
But in the moment in which we ﬁnd ourselves, he should be recognized for something else. He should be applauded for his dedication to science and the public interest. He should be seen for his strength of character to stand up and say what needs to be said clearly and consistently. His leadership in the current circumstances is truly life-saving.
In the early days of this crisis we were given misinformation. Myths ran wild on the internet about the virus and how it could be stopped. Uninformed optimism painted a pretty picture that seemed at odds with the scientiﬁc projections. The situation was sometimes portrayed as a political problem rather than a national health crisis. In essence, confusion and conﬂict seemed to be in plentiful supply, while information and instructions were harder to ﬁnd.
Enter Dr. Fauci, who has no political ambitions or concerns, as the one who stepped up to correct the misinformation whenever it came forth. No, there would not be some vaccine in a matter of months. Yes, the spike in cases was going to be coming. Yes, the health care systems and the professionals who operate it were going to be overwhelmed with cases of COVID-19. Yes, we were going to have to take some dramatic and drastic actions to slow the spread and give ourselves a chance to get through this phase. Fauci had a clear picture of what was going on that was not clouded by politics or personal preferences. Decades of dedication to public health and the strict regimens of science aﬀorded Fauci the platform from which to speak truth to the situation.
Fauci was able to speak as a scientist whose sole concern was and is public health. He was not worried about political ramiﬁcations. He was not cowed by presidential power— he’d been there many times before. He was not going to go along with what he knew was incorrect. He knew the science and the data were clear. He saw it as his task to make sure that everyone in the country, including those who would try to dismiss or disregard the danger, were educated about this new disease.
It did not take long before the press and others were looking to Dr. Fauci for answers. He spoke with a calm assurance that clariﬁed the crisis rather than obfuscated the reality. Here was someone who knew what he was talking about, said it in a clear understandable manner, and did so with concern for those who going to be aﬀected.
Then a new thing happened—the president, the press, the people—everyone started to defer to Fauci to answer the questions that we could not. The more questions were asked, the more it became clear that Fauci was the one who had the answers. More and more the press was seeking out Fauci for interviews and information. In a moment of crisis true leadership has risen to the top. Fauci has the ﬂoor, and we should all be listening carefully.
In times of crisis, we tend to look and listen to the ones who remain calm and inspire conﬁdence. We want to know that the person in the lead has the tools to guide us through. We want to hear clear and direct information about what needs to be done and when. We need assurance that there is a way to endure and survive, even if the way is diﬃcult and the predictions are dire. In the present crisis Fauci has oﬀered what we had been lacking: clarity and transparency and reasonable expectations. He is uniquely suited for this situation.
He has education in the ﬁeld. He spent years studying and learning and experimenting to understand the human immune system. He has multiple degrees which display his determination and dedication to his ﬁeld. He does not have to cast about for plausible answers to diﬃcult questions—he already knows them.
He has experience in his position. He’s not learning how to be the director—he’s been that for decades. He has been through numerous crises and changes of leadership and diﬀerent personalities. You cannot gain experience like that overnight. Few people have it, and those who do are to be heeded. At this moment his experience is the most valuable asset we have to counter the virus and its eﬀects.
He has empathy. He may have spent much more time in research than in residential practice, but his bed-side manner has also come to the fore. He speaks with a real sense of concern. These are not just numbers that he’s throwing out there. We get the sense that he truly cares about what is happening. In a moment when we have all together faced a terrible prognosis, he is the one who is oﬀering a measure of the comfort that we crave.
The president has made note that his approval ratings may be rising from what they were. One can ask the question as to why that should be the case. I would call this the Fauci Eﬀect—the more positive perspective that appears when we know we are dealing with medicine and science and humanity. Fauci has the competence and conﬁdence and compassion that we need to help us. Those are qualities that we can all appreciate— especially now!
Be safe. Be healthy. Be good to one another.
* I suggest that you explore the NIH Webpage that gives a full picture of Dr. Fauci’s life’s work. Niaid/nih.gov