'You misconstrue that, Senator': Fauci tells Sen. Rand Paul he has the facts wrong on COVID-19

Nicholas Wu

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, forcefully pushed back on assertions about COVID-19 made by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., during a Wednesday hearing, telling the senator he misconstrued the facts and had "done that repeatedly in the past." 

During a hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Paul asked Fauci if he had "second thoughts about your mitigation recommendations." Paul made several claims about herd immunity, Sweden's attempts to fight the pandemic, Asian countries having greater resilience against COVID-19, and virus death rates.

Fauci declined to engage with the senator on his terms.

"You know senator, I'd be happy at a different time to sit down and go over detail. You've said a lot of different things. You've compared us to Sweden and there are a lot of differences....compare Sweden to other Scandanavian countries. It's worse. So I don't think it's appropriate to compare Sweden with us." 

The current U.S. case-fatality rate, or the deaths as a percentage of total cases, is 2.9% according to Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker. Sweden's is 6.6%. Some conservatives who opposed virus mitigation measures in the United States hailed Sweden's virus strategy, which did not shut down much of the country's economy but led to spiking death rates from the pandemic. 

Fauci said he and his colleagues had made their earlier decisions and recommendations based on the data available at the time, but he and his colleagues would make new recommendations as new data arrived.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 23:  Anthony Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, testifies at a Senate Health, Education, and Labor and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill,  on September 23, 2020 in Washington, DC.

"I don't regret saying that the only way we could have 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," he said. 

Paul asked Fauci another question about his praise for New York's efforts to contain the pandemic, but Fauci batted away the question. 

"No, no, you misconstrue that, Senator, and you've done that repeatedly in the past. They got hit very badly, they made some mistakes," he said. 

"The things that are going on in New York to get their test positivity 1% or less is because" they followed the coronavirus task force's recommendations about hand-washing, mask-wearing, social distancing, and outdoor activities, Fauci said. 

More:Time 100: Anthony Fauci, Donald Trump, Megan Thee Stallion, Michael B. Jordan make list for 2020

Paul said New York City had achieved a high enough infection rate that the city could achieve herd immunity and mitigate the pandemic, but Fauci said Paul was not listening to the experts. 

"Please sir, I would like to be able to do this, because this happens with Sen. Rand (sic) all the time," Fauci said as committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., tried to move proceedings on. "You are not listening to what the director of the CDC said, that in New York it's about 22%. If you believe 22% is herd immunity, I believe you're alone in that."

Paul, for his part, seemed to take the exchange as a victory, posting a video on Twitter and saying he took Fauci "to task." 

Following the hearing, Paul told reporters on Capitol Hill, "There’s a possibility that virtually everything he’s recommended hasn’t worked."

It's not the first time Fauci and Paul have sparred on the Hill. The last time Fauci came before the panel, in May of this year, Paul lambasted the expert, telling him, "I don't think you're the end-all" in another testy exchange. 

More:'I don't think you're the end-all': Rand Paul slams Anthony Fauci at Senate hearing