Dr. Anthony Fauci told Reuters on Monday that the politicization of mask-wearing in the U.S. helped contribute to the nation reaching the grim milestone of over 500,000 deaths, calling the number "stunning."
What are the details?
Reuters reported that Fauci "said the pandemic arrived in the United States as the country was riven by political divisions in which wearing a mask became a political statement rather than a public health measure."
"Even under the best of circumstances, this would have a been very serious problem," Fauci told the outlet, while acknowledging that other nations like Germany and the UK were also pummeled by the virus despite greater public compliance with measures aimed at stopping its spread. "However, that does not explain how a rich and sophisticated county can have the most percentage of deaths and be the hardest-hit country in the world."
The infectious disease expert also said it was "incomprehensible" to him that some governors and mayors disregarded the coronavirus task force's recommendations for reopening last year following lockdowns in the spring.
"When the American spirit is so divided, that really, really made me sad," Fauci said.
Fauci also said that while America's struggles combating the COVID-19 cannot all be blamed on former President Donald Trump, "the lack of involvement at the very top of the leadership in trying to do everything that was science-based was clearly detrimental to the effort."
Fauci has received criticism himself for inconsistent messaging on mask-wearing, after the task force initially urged Americans not to wear masks when the coronavirus first hit American shores before reversing course entirely and calling for everyone to wear facial coverings.
President Joe Biden floated the idea of a federal mask mandate while campaigning last year before easing off the nationwide order amid questions over its constitutionality and enforcement. However, the president did issue a mask mandate for federal properties and on modes of interstate transportation such as planes on his first day in office.
Fauci and Biden have said the U.S. should approach pre-pandemic normal life around Christmas.
The president addressed the nation at the candlelight vigil, saying, "We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow. We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic or a blur or, on the news. We must do so to honor the dead. But, equally important, to care for the living."