WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — While testifying before a U.S. Senate committee, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's leading infectious disease expert, criticized a Kentucky lawmaker for repeatedly misconstruing the COVID-19 death rate in New York, adding that the lawmaker hasn’t been listening to the nation's top health officials.
Fauci made the comments answering questions from Sen. Rand Paul during his appearance before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee on Wednesday.
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases had paused to ask for more time to address Paul's criticism of New York's pandemic response and the senator’s claim that the community has herd immunity already.
"If you believe 22% is herd immunity, I believe you're alone in that," Fauci told Paul, after the senator said New York's confirmed cases have decreased because enough people have become immune to the coronavirus.
Fauci explained that New York was hit hard by COVID-19 and there were some mistakes, but that now its test positivity of 1% or less is a result of following recommended guidelines like wearing masks, washing hands often and social distancing.
With the economy in a recession, Paul was questioning if Fauci had any second thoughts over the country's handling of the virus and how New York could be praised. The Republican was comparing the U.S. death rate to Sweden's, which Fauci said was inappropriate because the populations are different and Sweden's death rate is worse than neighboring countries.
Fauci said he doesn't regret saying that the shutdown was the only way to really stop the outbreak.
Paul then asked why Gov. Andrew Cuomo should be commended as "New York had the highest death rate in the world," prompting Fauci to stop and push back on that claim.
"You've misconstrued that senator, and you've done that repetitively in the past," Fauci responded.
When Paul claimed that herd immunity had already been established in New York, Fauci said he needed to challenge him on that "because this happens with Senator Rand all the time. You are not listening to what the director of the CDC said."
The contentious exchange ended with Fauci citing a study against another of Paul's claims about preexisting immunity, as the doctor told the senator it found prior immunity to other coronaviruses like the common cold don't cross-react with COVID-19.