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It was said of the late actress Sylvia Miles, who spent her nights going from event to event in New York, that she would “attend the opening of an envelope.” US government virus guru Anthony Fauci has very little in common with Sylvia Miles: He wasn’t nominated twice for an Oscar, for example, and he has never, to my knowledge, appeared in the nude. But he has become as ubiquitous a public presence over the past year in all media as Miles was at every party.
Every day, and it seems for hours a day, Fauci pops up on cable shows or in interviews with major journalists, and the blue-check Twitterati amplify his messages through social media.
He is inescapable. And the problem with his inescapability is that, unlike Sylvia Miles, it matters deeply what he says and does — and it’s now clear that our epidemiologist general can’t restrain himself from speaking and speaking and speaking, even when he doesn’t have anything much to add and when his contributions muddy and confuse and dishearten, rather than reassure and rally, the public.
It’s as if Sylvia Miles not only attended the opening of every envelope but insisted on opening each envelope herself while stripping nude.
Just this week, Fauci went on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and suggested that a fourth wave of the pandemic was not about to start — but it could, it really could, if people didn’t do what he was telling them to do. By which he meant “hanging in there” and continuing to follow all the prescriptions of the past year — social distancing, mask wearing, not gathering collectively.
Then Willie Geist of “Morning Joe” pointed out that Texas had relaxed its mandates and saw no surge of cases.
Fauci replied: “It can be confusing, because you may see a lag and a delay, because often you have to wait a few weeks before you see the effect of what you’re doing right now.”
But using Fauci’s own standards, it had already been a couple of weeks since the change — and, as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott noted, the positivity rate in the Lone Star State had fallen, not risen. How to explain this? “I’m not really quite sure,” Fauci said. “It could be they’re doing things outdoors.”
The only thing that makes logical sense here is Fauci saying he is “not really quite sure.” Ordinarily, people who don’t have an answer to a question don’t continue to answer it with the answer they gave earlier when it may no longer be applicable. But Fauci can’t keep himself from the mic, even when he has nothing to add.
Or he adds things that are only designed to dispirit everyone save those who want to remain on lockdown forever. Even as he trumpets the extraordinary numbers of vaccinations going on every day, he undercuts the effort to get the hesitant to vaccinate by saying that life won’t be getting back anywhere near close to normal anytime soon.
In an interview on Monday with the Politico Dispatch podcast — see what I mean about how he can’t keep himself from appearing in front of any and every microphone? — Fauci said it wouldn’t be until “late fall or early winter” that people will be able to congregate maskless.
Let me put this charitably: This is a self-defeating and insane thing to say at a time when our clearest path forward from the vaccine is to get those hesitant to take the jabs to do so, because it is in their best interest.
Is Fauci suggesting that even if you get vaccinated, you’re going to be in a mask in a movie theater or a Broadway theater or just about any place indoors until 2022? If so, then why on earth would a frightened person bite the bullet, take the risk and accept the needle?
This is a deep strain in public-health thinking — that it’s a virtue to keep people scared. But with the day fast approaching when there will be more vaccine available than takers of the vaccine, what Fauci needs to be doing is sweetening the pot, even if it means that the invitations to the envelope openings are going to slow way down.