WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci is back in the White House press briefing room.
Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, was tasked by President Joe Biden to give an update on the coronavirus pandemic after largely being sidelined in recent months by former President Donald Trump.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at Thursday afternoon's White House press briefing that the new administration would “be completely open and honest” in dealing with the pandemic. In an implicit rebuke to the Trump administration, said everything now would be “based on science and evidence.”
He also said in the Biden administration, the rule would be “if you don’t know the answer, don’t guess.”
Fauci, who was repeatedly attacked by Trump for breaking with his rosy view of the pandemic, provided an update on the new, more contagious strains of the virus, which has now claimed the lives of more than 400,000 Americans.
Fauci is Biden’s top medical adviser on the pandemic. He was present hours before the press briefing when Biden signed 10 executive orders aimed at jump starting his national COVID-19 strategy to increase vaccinations and testing, lay the groundwork for reopening schools and businesses and immediately increase the use of face coverings — including a requirement that Americans mask up for travel.
One directive calls for a addressing health care inequities in minority communities hard hit by the virus.
Fauci has also announced renewed U.S. support for the World Health Organization after the Trump administration had pulled out of the global body. He said early Thursday that the U.S. will join the U.N. health agency’s efforts to bring vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to people in need, whether in rich or poor countries and will resume full funding and staffing support for WHO.
Taking questions, Fauci said that the Biden administration is not starting from scratch on vaccine distribution taking over from Trump. He said that they're taking what's been going on and "amplifying it in big way." Fauci said the new administration is coming in with fresh ideas as well as ideas that were from Trump's team.
Fauci said Biden's goal of administering 100 million vaccines in his first 100 days in office is "quite a reasonable goal." Press secretary Jen Psaki said that goal about doubles what had been the goal of the Trump administration over the past month. She said that outreach to minority communities about the vaccine and explaining why getting the shots is important will be a significant part of the plan.
If 75-85% of Americans get the vaccine by summer, Fauci said the U.S. could be approaching some degree of normality by fall, with enough herd immunity to get the nation almost back to life before the pandemic. He also said that the concern is vaccination hesitancy and "a lot of good outreach" is needed for the best-case summer scenario.
Fauci said the virus strain first found in the United Kingdom is in at least 20 states. He said that the mutations being seen around the world could be spread easier but don't appear to cause more severe illness, and vaccines should still be effective.
The new president wants to work with both Democrats and Republicans to pass his $1.9 trillion aid package, Psaki said. She said Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are expected to be very involved in the negotiations and that Biden was having bipartisan talks before Inauguration Day on Wednesday, but didn't give a date of when the parties would meet.
In other congressional business, Psaki said Biden believes the timeline for Trump's second impeachment trial should be left up to the legislative branch but hopefully not delay Biden's biggest priority of coronavirus relief for the American people.
Psaki said the four crises that are top priority for Biden are the pandemic and its affect on the economy, climate and racial equity, in which she says the president includes his immigration policies.
The press secretary also talked about the note Trump left his successor in presidential tradition, saying there's no call planned between Biden and Trump and Biden was just making clear on Wednesday that the letter from Trump was private and he would rather speak with Trump before sharing what the now-former president wrote.
Psaki was also asked about Trump's last-day pardons and commutations for 143 people, including his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, as well as rapper Lil Wayne and former members of Congress. She said the pardons aren't a model for Biden's Justice Department, which will act independently and make its own decisions.
Biden has picked former Obama Supreme Court justice choice Merrick Garland as his attorney general. Garland was a supervisor of the prosecution in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing case.