WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci on Wednesday said that New York “made some mistakes” with COVID-19 during a heated exchange with Sen. Rand Paul, where he also defended the Empire State as having gotten “hit very badly.”
Paul, a Kentucky Republican and libertarian, tried to cite New York’s tragic toll of more than 32,000 deaths as evidence that lockdowns are ineffective.
“You’ve been a big fan of [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo in the shutdown in New York. You’ve lauded New York for their policy. New York had the highest death rate in the world. How can we possibly be jumping up and down and saying, ‘Oh, Gov. Cuomo did a great job?’ He had the worst death rate in the world,” Paul said.
Fauci bristled at Paul’s premise and the normally even-keeled immunologist grew visibly angry in his response.
“You misconstrued that, senator, and you’ve done that repetitively in the past. They got hit very badly, they made some mistakes,” Fauci said, before praising current efforts in New York.
Critics fault Cuomo for a controversial March 25 state rule barring nursing homes from turning away coronavirus-positive patients, resulting in 6,300 infected people being housed nearby vulnerably elderly residents.
COVID-19 swept through New York nursing homes in March and April, killing at least 6,500 people. The true death toll could be much higher. An Associated Press analysis found that 11,000 New York nursing home residents may have died.
Asked about Fauci saying New York made mistakes, Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi told The Post that Fauci “also complimented the governor and smacked down Rand Paul for fudging everything that happened in New York.”
Fauci is the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a White House coronavirus task force member. He said that he approves of New York’s current policies.
“Right now, if you look at what’s going on right now, the things that are going on in New York to get their test positivity 1 percent or less, is because they are looking at the guidelines that we have put together from the task force of the four or five things: of masks, social distancing, outdoors more than indoors, avoiding crowds and washing hands,” he said.
The exchange began with Paul contrasting New York’s strict social restrictions with more relaxed policies in Sweden, which resisted a strict lockdown.
Sweden’s population amounts to about 54 percent of New York’s population, but the Nordic kingdom reported fewer than 6,000 deaths — or 18 percent of New York’s fatalities.
“To those who argue that the lockdown flattened the curve in New York and New Jersey, the evidence argues otherwise. New York, New Jersey wound up with the sharpest spike or highest death rate in the world… In contrast, Sweden had a relatively softer touch few mandates and mostly voluntary guidelines,” Paul said.
“In fact, the US death rate is quite comparable to less developed parts of the world where social distancing is virtually impossible such as Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador. Which brings us to an important question: Is man really capable of altering the course of an infectious disease through crowd control? The statistics argue a resounding no.”
Fauci rebutted Paul, saying that lockdowns were significant.
“I don’t regret saying that the only way we could have really stopped the explosion of infection was by essentially — I want to say shutting down, I mean essentially having the physical separation and the kinds of recommendations that we’ve made,” Fauci said.
“Compare Sweden’s death rate to other comparable Scandinavian countries, it’s worse. So I don’t think it’s appropriate to compare Sweden with us,” he said.