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Fauci: US political divide over masks led to half a million COVID-19 deaths

Fauci: US political divide over masks led to half a million COVID-19 deaths
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Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFauci: COVID-19 vaccine could lead to 'breakthrough' in HIV fight GOP lawmaker calls for Wuhan probe to 'prevent the next pandemic' Trump bemoans lack of vaccine credit amid mask news MORE, the nation’s leading infectious diseases expert, said on Monday that political divisiveness over the use of masks contributed to the U.S. coronavirus death count. 

Fauci made the comments on the same day the country's death toll reached half a million people one year after the start of the pandemic. Calling the grim milestone "stunning" in an interview with Reuters, Fauci said the divide over mask wearing, which split Americans politically during a presidential election year, turned the public health measure into a political statement.

“Even under the best of circumstances, this would have been a very serious problem,” Fauci said.

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“However, that does not explain how a rich and sophisticated country can have the most percentage of deaths and be the hardest-hit country in the world,” Fauci said.

Fauci also called the disregard by some governors and mayors of recommendations for how to reopen the country safely after near-nationwide lockdowns last spring "incomprehensible."

“When the American spirit is so divided, that really, really made me sad,” he said.

While Fauci would not lay all the blame on the former Trump administration, he noted "the lack of involvement at the very top of the leadership in trying to do everything that was science-based was clearly detrimental to the effort."

While the U.S. has 4 percent of the world’s population, it has almost 20 percent of all coronavirus deaths, according to Reuters.

“This is the worst thing that’s happened to this country with regard to the health of the nation in over 100 years,” Fauci said. 

Fauci told Reuters that it was difficult to predict when the pandemic would be over due to the emergence of new coronavirus variants from South Africa and Brazil. Some studies have indicated that these strains are more resistant to the existing coronavirus vaccines.

Fauci has suggested that Americans could get pre-pandemic life back by Christmas but has warned restrictions could last until next year.