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Fauci says his mask stance was 'taken out of context' by Trump

The country's top infectious disease doctor Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Health Care: FDA says millions of J&J doses from troubled plant must be thrown out | WHO warns Africa falling far behind in vaccinations | Top CDC official says US not ready for next pandemic Top CDC official warns US not ready for next pandemic WHO official: Delta variant 'poised to take hold' in Europe MORE said President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says Putin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE's claims about his stance on the benefits of face masks were "taken out of context."

In an interview that will air Thursday on ABC News’s “Start Here” podcast, Fauci said public health officials did not recommend people wear masks early in the pandemic because there was a shortage of personal protective equipment for health professionals.

"So the feeling was that people who were wanting to have masks in the community, namely just people out in the street, might be hoarding masks and making the shortage of masks even greater. In that context, we said that we did not recommend masks," Fauci said.

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During a segment of Tuesday's presidential debate focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump suggested that his health officials have changed their minds, noting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not always recommended the use of face coverings.

"Dr. [Anthony] Fauci said the opposite, he very strongly said masks aren't good and then he changed his mind, he said masks are good," Trump said.

During the "Start Here" interview, Fauci said scientists quickly changed their recommendation after realizing the extent to which asymptomatic spread was contributing to COVID-19 infections.

"At that point, which is now months and months ago, I have been on the airways, on the radio, on TV, begging people to wear masks. And I keep talking in the context of wear a mask, keep physical distance, avoid crowds, wash your hands and do things more outdoors versus indoors," Fauci said. 

Trump in the past has often questioned the effectiveness of masks, and has rarely worn one himself.

During Tuesday's debate in Cleveland, Trump said he wears a mask when needed, but added that everyone in the debate hall had already been tested for COVID-19 and was seated physically distanced from each other.

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He also mocked Biden for always wearing "the biggest mask I've ever seen." 

When CDC first officially recommended the use of face coverings on April 3, Trump said he would not wear one.

"I won't be doing it personally. It's a recommendation," he said at the time.