WASHINGTON – The nation's top infectious disease expert warned on Friday that attending large-scale events such as campaign rallies is "risky" and "a danger," citing the looming coronavirus pandemic, just days after President Donald Trump said he would return to the campaign trail beginning next week.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, expressed concern for people attending mass protests across the country, touched off by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minnesota police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Fauci said that while he understands why people feel compelled to attend protests, spreading the contagious respiratory disease at such large-scale events poses a real threat.
"You know, it's a danger to the people who are trying to control the demonstration," he told ABC's Jonathan Karl on the "Powerhouse Politics" podcast. "And it's a danger to the people who are demonstrating. So at the end of the day, it is a risky procedure."
When asked whether he extends that advice to Americans who want to attend one of Trump's upcoming rallies, including next week's planned rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Fauci said yes.
"I am consistent. I stick by what I say," he said.
Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, reiterated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on limiting the spread of COVID-19, adding that the safest practice is to "avoid crowded places, to wear a mask whenever you're outside. And if you can do both, avoid the congregation of people and do the mask, that's great."
"When you start to chant and shout, even though the instinct is to pull the mask down, which you see, don't do that because there is a risk there and it's a real risk," he said.
Fauci's comments come as his boss, Trump, has sought to downplay the threat of a resurgence of the virus as states begin loosening restrictions put in place in March to stem the spread COVID-19. Earlier this week Trump announced he would revive his campaign rallies beginning on June 19 in Tulsa, even as some states continue to see a rise in cases across the country.
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While Trump has played down the threat of coronavirus, the sign-up page for free tickets to the Tulsa rally comes with a liability waiver that says the campaign or other parties associated with the event next Friday cannot be held liable for exposure to coronavirus. Campaign officials have discussed providing hand sanitizer and masks at the arena, which holds about 19,000 people.
Coronavirus cases in Oklahoma dropped in May but have spiked over the past couple of weeks. The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 222 new COVID-19 cases across the state Friday, bringing the total number of the state’s positive cases to 7,848.
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Trump said he plans to hold rallies in Arizona and Florida, two states that have recently seen an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
The U.S. surpassed 2 million COVID-19 cases earlier this week, with more than 114,000 deaths reported. Health officials warn such large scale events could lead to a virus resurgence.
Fauci, previously a prominent voice at coronavirus task force briefings, has been seen less frequently since the White House dramatically decreased the group's operations. The once daily coronavirus task force briefings have ceased since the White House has shifted its attention to promoting an economic recovery. Fauci told Karl he hasn't met with Trump since last week but task force officials remain in contact.
"We have not thrown in the towel," he said.
Earlier this week Fauci told the annual conference of biotechnology executives thatSARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was his "worst nightmare," given that it jumped from animals, was highly contagious and deadly.
While a vaccine isn't expected until 2021, Fauci said Friday that he expects one will be identified by the end of the year. His advice for Americans is not to completely self-isolate or dismiss safety measures, but to take commonsense steps such as wearing a mask and avoiding crowds.
"My message is for people to please hang in there. We will get through this. This will end," he told ABC. "It will end with a combination of public health measures and ultimately science coming in and getting durable solutions such as treatments and vaccines."
Contributing: Michael Collins