Freedom of Information Act requests produced thousands of pages of emails this week sent and received by Anthony Fauci during the tumultuous period when COVID-19 first emerged.

The emails, obtained by The Washington Post and BuzzFeed, provided an inside look at the top infectious diseases expert’s hectic work life in the early months of the pandemic.   

BuzzFeed’s more than 3,200 pages of emails and the Post’s more than 860 pages of emails detail how Fauci communicated with fellow officials, colleagues, scientists and concerned Americans when COVID-19 first began to fundamentally alter U.S. society last year.

Here are the five biggest revelations from Fauci’s inbox: 

Fauci said he wasn’t censored by the Trump administration 

The nation’s top infectious diseases expert fielded several questions, including from medical professionals and a columnist, about whether he was being “muzzled” by former President Trump or his administration.

But Fauci repeatedly countered any characterization that the administration was controlling what he could tell the public.

At the beginning of March 2020, Mark Shlomchik, the chair of the Department of Immunology at the University of Pittsburgh, sent an email encouraging Fauci to negate rumors that he’s being silenced publicly after Shlomchik confirmed that they weren’t true. 

“I have been very explicit in stating publicly that I am not being muzzled or censored,” Fauci said. “I say exactly what I want to say based on scientific evidence.”

“I could not possibly be more public about this,” he added, citing his many television appearances and press conferences. “No censor. No muzzle. Free to speak out.”

As the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Fauci became a trusted voice in the administration, but he sometimes clashed with Trump and other officials, sparking concerns from some that the respected expert would be instructed to stay silent.

His pushback was particularly notable when responding to Gregg Gonsalves, a Yale School of Public Health epidemiologist, who sent an email in early March 2020 to several top health officials.

“All we see is genuflection in word and deed from most of you to a White House that wants this all to magically go away,” Gonsalves wrote. 

“Gregg: I am surprised you included me in your note,” Fauci responded. “I genuflect to no one but science and always, always speak my mind when it comes to public health. I have consistently corrected misstatements by others and will continue to do so.”

Gonsalves clarified “that part of the message was not directed at you,” saying other officials “haven’t been as forthright as you have,” to which Fauci answered, “Understood. I appreciate your note. I will keep pushing.” 

Early predictions, advice underscore evolving understanding of COVID-19

It’s clear through the NIAID director’s emails that his expectations, predictions and advice from early in the pandemic do not always align with current results and recommendations, signifying that even Fauci was learning as COVID-19 emerged. 

A day after the first documented COVID-19 death in the U.S. in February 2020, ABC News’s managing editor of the medical unit reached out to Fauci to ask if he agreed with a Department of Homeland Security source that the U.S. could see 98 million cases and 500,000 fatalities from the virus. 

“That seems exceptionally high,” Fauci said at the time. 

The U.S. surpassed 500,000 deaths the following February. Now, the country is nearing 600,000 COVID-19 deaths and has documented 33 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Some of the emails show how Fauci’s guidance on mask wearing has evolved throughout the pandemic. It’s been previously reported that the NIAID director initially recommended against wearing masks out of concern that Americans would use up the already short supply of face coverings needed by medical professionals.

In February 2020, he gave the same instructions to Sylvia Burwell, the former Health and Human Services secretary, who asked through email whether she should bring a mask to the airport, saying she would be in a very “low risk location.”

“Masks are really for infected people to prevent them from spreading infection to people who are not infected rather than protecting uninfected people from acquiring infection,” Fauci wrote. 

“The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through the material,” he continued. “It might, however, provide some slight benefit in keep out gross droplets if someone coughs or sneezes on you.”

His tone changed after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance in April, recommending people wear face coverings in public and around people outside of their household, prompting Republican scrutiny.

Fauci responded to both officials and strangers who sought advice

In the thousands of pages of emails, Fauci frequently answered questions from officials, colleagues and strangers who were seeking advice to stay safe in the early stages of the pandemic. 

One woman wrote to him under the subject “A humble request for your wisdom” on March 4, 2020, asking if a person vaccinated against pneumonia had any protection against COVID-19.

Fauci responded an hour later, saying most pneumonias would not provide protection against COVID-19 and recommending those 65 and older get the pneumonia vaccine “regardless of the risk of coronavirus infection.”

She answered shortly after saying, “Oh my God…I honestly never expected you to reply and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being so generous.”

In late February 2020, a doctor emailed saying he suspected that one of his patients had contracted COVID-19. Fauci answered with his advice for the patient before saying, “If things change, do not hesitate to call or e-mail me.”

The NIAID director also fielded a series of questions from a senior official in the Office of the Surgeon General in the Army and U.S. Army Medical Command. The queries ranged from whether COVID-19 could be contracted from a corpse to what keeps Fauci up at night regarding the virus. 

“I have said in the past that what keeps me up at night is the possibility of a pandemic respiratory infection,” Fauci answered in April 2020. “We are in that now, and what keeps me up at night is the response, a major part of which is the development of an effective vaccine and treatments for COVID-19.”

Colleagues raised concerns about his heavy workload

Within the sea of messages, colleagues and others sent notes raising concerns with Fauci about his health and workload as he worked long days and continued appearing on television. 

Howard Bauchner, the editor in chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association, emailed Fauci an outline of a scheduled discussion in early February before adding, “You surviving – worried a bit about your workload.”

“Am hanging in there,” Fauci answered. “Feels like my internship and first year residency when I was on every other night and every other weekend, but actually never left the hospital because the patients were so sick.”

Days earlier, Fauci apologized to someone else for canceling a meeting, saying “This is White House in full overdrive and I am in the middle of it. Reminiscent of post-anthrax days.” 

On March 19, 2020, Francis Collins, the NIH director, closed a lengthy email to Fauci with the recommendation for him to “Get some sleep.”

Top Chinese health official George Gao also expressed concern in an April email saying he heard Fauci was “being attacked by some people” and hoping “you are well under such a irrational situation.”

“Thank you for your kind note,” Fauci responded, “All is well despite some crazy people in this world.”

Fauci was uneasy about his celebrity status

The infectious disease expert expressed his discomfort about his sudden rise to celebrity status in his emails, calling fascination with him “surrealistic.”

An NIAID colleague emailed Fauci a story from the Post called “Fauci socks, Fauci doughnuts, Fauci fan art: The coronavirus expert attracts a cult following” on March 31, 2020.

“Truly surrealistic,” Fauci answered. “Hopefully, this all stops soon.”

In a later email, he wrote, “It is not at all pleasant, that is for sure.”

In an April 2020 email, Fauci instructed an unknown recipient to click on an article entitled “‘Cuomo Crush’ and ‘Fauci Fever’ — Sexualization Of These Men Is a Real Thing on The Internet.”

“Click on the ‘Cuomo Crush’ and ‘Fauci Fever’ link below,” he wrote. “It will blow your mind. Our society is really totally nuts.”

But the infectious diseases expert did find some benefits in his popularity, noting in an April 27, 2020, email that a Saturday Night Live viewer commented that actor Brad Pitt “looked ‘exactly like me.’” Pitt had played Fauci in an SNL episode at the time. 

“That statement made my year,” he said, adding a smiley face.

Tags Anthony Fauci Coronavirus Donald Trump Fauci's emails NIAID NIH Pandemic Sylvia Burwell

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