It’s ‘premature’ to say if the US has failed in its pandemic preparedness, Fauci says

About Covid19 signs are seen at the Times Square in New York City, United States on March 20, 2020.

Tayfun Coskun | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The battle against the coronavirus pandemic is like “the fog of war,” said renowned top American health official Anthony Fauci in an interview with Science magazine, adding that it was “premature” to assess whether the U.S. plan has failed or not.

In answer to what went wrong in the U.S. and “why did this fail” despite the country’s pandemic preparedness, Fauci said: “I think we’ll have to wait until it is over and we look back before we can answer that.”

“It’s almost like the fog of war. After the war is over, you then look back and say, wow, this plan, as great as it was, didn’t quite work once they started that throwing hand grenades at us,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in the interview published on Sunday. “It really is similar to that.”

Fauci, who has been on the frontline of the government response to the COVID-19 outbreak, flagged that testing is one “clear” issue that needs to be looked at again.

Testing for the coronavirus across the U.S. has been criticized as unacceptably inadequate and slow. That’s prevented health officials from understanding the full scope of the outbreak, American hospital leaders told CNBC earlier in March.

“Why were we not able to mobilize on a broader scale? But I don’t think we can do that right now. I think it’s premature. We really need to look forward,” Fauci said in the interview with Science.

Those who have criticized the amount of testing in the U.S. point to the aggressive approach taken by countries such as South Korea, where since early January, more than 200,000 people have been tested. 

New York state now has more coronavirus cases than France or South Korea as the number of confirmed infections soared to 15,168, according to new data released by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday. 

Asked by the magazine’s Jon Cohen about how he manages disagreements with President Donald Trump, Fauci said: “Even though we disagree on some things, he listens. He goes his own way. He has his own style.  But on substantive issues, he does listen to what I say.”

Fauci acknowledged that he has been calling for people to be physically separated during press conferences, but that has not always been possible. “I keep saying, is there any way we can get a virtual press conference. Thus far, no,” he told the magazine. “But when you’re dealing with the White House, sometimes you have to say things 1,2,3,4 times, and then it happens. So I’m going to keep pushing.”

Read more about Anthony Fauci’s interview with Science magazine here.

— CNBC’s Dawn Kopecki and Kevin Stankiewicz contributed to this report.

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