Dr. Anthony Fauci on Monday walked back his comments from the weekend about American families gathering for Christmas, claiming he was taken "completely out of context."
"I was asked, 'What can we predict for this winter for like December and Christmas,'" Fauci told CNN's Kate Bolduan late Monday morning.
"I say you hold off on that, I said we don't know because we've seen slopes that went down and then came back up. The best way to assure that we'll be in good shape as we get into the winter would be to get more and more people vaccinated," Fauci continued. "That was misinterpreted as my saying we can't spend Christmas with our families, which was absolutely not the case."
"I will be spending Christmas with my family. I encourage people, particularly the vaccinated people who are protected, to have a good normal Christmas with your family," said Fauci.
"Just the way all of the other disinformation goes around, you say something talking about a landmark of a time and it gets misinterpreted that I'm saying you can't spend family Christmas time, which is nonsense, you can," he added.
Fauci's defensive claim that he was taken out of context follows an outpouring of online outrage directed at him for remarks he made during a CNN interview on Sunday.
"Face the Nation" host Margaret Brennan had asked Fauci if the pandemic was "close to over" or if "we need to brace for another wave" as the holidays approach.
Fauci answered that public health officials need to continue to look for COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths to come down.
"The one thing that we don't want to do is that we don't want to become complacent and say, 'OK, now we need to pull back, we don't need any more people to get vaccinated,'" said Fauci on Sunday. "We need to continue to get those individuals, now 70 million people who are eligible to be vaccinated, vaccinated."
Brennan then followed up with a question about studies that show "COVID's gotten better at transmitting through aerosols."
"What does that mean? We're going into cold weather. We're going into the holidays. Do people need to start looking around and saying it's just too risky to gather with family members if there are unvaccinated children?" Brennan asked.
Fauci replied that as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends, "When you are in a situation where you have a dynamic of virus in the community, where there's clearly a lot of spread, even if you are vaccinated and you are in an indoor setting, a congregate setting, it just makes sense to wear a mask and to avoid high risk situations."
He also said that indoor places should look to increase ventilation, that increased ventilation reduces the risk of transmitting the virus, "Which is the reason why outdoors is always much safer than indoors."
"But we can gather for Christmas, or it's just too soon to tell?" Brennan asked.
"You know, Margaret, it's just too soon to tell," Fauci responded. "We've just got to concentrate on continuing to get those numbers down and not try to jump ahead by weeks or months and say what we're going to do at a particular time."
"Let's focus like a laser on continuing to get those cases down," he continued. "And we can do it by people getting vaccinated and also in the situation where boosters are appropriate to get people boosted because we know that they can help greatly in diminishing infection and diminishing advanced disease, the kinds of data that are now accumulating in real-time."
Fauci's response, "It's too soon to tell" was made in answer to the direct question, "But we can gather for Christmas?"
Was his response taken out of context? You decide.