Meadows says Fauci wrong to compare coronavirus to 1918 pandemic

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said on Thursday that Anthony Fauci was wrong to liken the coronavirus to the 1918 flu pandemic, calling his remarks “false” and “irresponsible.” 

Meadows made the comments on Fox News after rebuking White House trade adviser Peter Navarro’s decision to pen an op-ed criticizing Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, which the chief of staff said was “not appropriate.”

Meadows went on to argue that not everything that Fauci says is correct.

“He was at Georgetown the other day and he suggested that this virus was worse or as bad as the 1918 flu epidemic. And I can tell you that not only is that false, it is irresponsible to suggest so,”  Meadows told Fox News’s Martha MacCallum. “Listen, we all say things and do things that we wish that we hadn’t done.”

“My understanding is Dr. Fauci is walking that back and telling the American people that that was not accurate and not based on science,” Meadows continued. A spokesperson for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which Fauci directs, did not immediately return a request for comment. 

Meadows was referring to remarks Fauci made Tuesday during a Georgetown University Global Health Initiative webinar during which he described the coronavirus as a “pandemic of historic proportions” and suggested it was possible the coronavirus could approach the “seriousness” of the 1918 pandemic.

“Right now if you look at the magnitude of the 1918 pandemic where anywhere from 50 to 75 to 100 million people died, I mean that was the mother of all pandemics and truly historic. I hope we don’t even approach that with this, but it does have the makings of the possibility of … approaching that in seriousness, though I hope that the kinds of interventions that we’re going to be, and are implementing would not allow that to happen,” Fauci said.

Fauci said the two pandemics are also similar because they were caused by new viruses that jumped from animals to humans and that were also highly transmissible between people. 

There have been more than 13.7 million cases of the coronavirus recorded globally and more than 588,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Fauci, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, has faced criticism from White House aides in recent days, including Navarro and White House deputy chief of staff and social media director Dan Scavino, who posted a cartoon mocking the top health official to his Facebook page.

A White House official also circulated a list of “mistakes” Fauci has made to news outlets over the weekend, including his March statement there was no need for people to wear face coverings. Fauci and other public health experts have shifted their opinions on masks since evidence showed that asymptomatic individuals could spread the virus. Fauci described the criticism as “bizarre” in an interview with The Atlantic.

Fauci has been a key public health voice amid the coronavirus pandemic, offering unvarnished assessments of the threat presented by COVID-19 that have cut against more rosy pronouncements from President Trump and the White House. Fauci at times has contradicted Trump’s public statements without directly criticizing the president. 

Navarro’s extraordinary op-ed published in USA Today on Tuesday explained his disagreements with Fauci’s opinions and suggested his advice should be taken with “skepticism and caution.”

The White House communications operation sought to distance itself from the piece, saying it did not undergo normal clearance processes. Both Trump and Meadows have publicly criticized Navarro for the move.

“He made a statement representing himself,” Trump told reporters of Navarro at the White House prior to leaving for a trip to Georgia on Wednesday. “He shouldn’t be doing that. No, I have a very good relationship with Anthony.”

Meadows on Thursday said that the White House has “a lot of people that have a lot of different opinions” and expressed hope that they would find away to work together to “make the priority the American people going forward.”

Trump at times has expressed disagreement with Fauci. That includes last week, when Trump said in an interview he disagreed with Fauci’s assessment the United States is still “knee deep in the first wave” of the coronavirus.

States like Arizona, Texas, California and Florida have experienced a worrying surge in cases in recent weeks, causing states to roll back plans to reopen businesses.

Jessie Hellmann contributed.

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