Dr. Anthony Fauci is leading the nation's coronavirus response team, the increasing source of scorn for conspiracy theorists and others resentful of having to social distance and is averaging 18-hour work days. But ask him how he's doing, and you'll likely get a pretty measured response.
“I’m doing fine.”
At 79 years old, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ name is uttered by newscasters, average Americans and everyone in between as frequently the president’s.
But talking to Fauci, you wouldn’t know it. The calming disposition of Fauci has made him the face of COVID-19 in America, as the chaos around the disease continues to alter each day. To many citizens his presence and personality is soothing, but his demeanor is nothing new.
What You See Is What You Get
“The thing that I get a lot of attention for now is that I'm very open and I'm honest, and I'm succinct in explaining complex things, because I feel it's important for people to understand the fundamental tenets of public health,” Fauci told InsideEdition.com. “I never compromise telling the truth on things that I know based on science.”
He says although he is much older now, he is still guided by the same basis of “honesty and clarity, and always go by the scientific data and never compromise your principles.”
Fauci has run the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. There, he’s dealt with AIDS, SARS, the Zika virus, swine flu, Ebola Virus Disease and now COVID-19. HIs position has put him in front of every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan. And to hear those who know him tell it, his approach toward his work has remained the same.
“I have interacted [with Fauci] in multiple ways as a scientist and you know, there are some people who say small amounts in the scheme of a much larger conversation but make tremendous impact. He is one of those [people],” Dr. David Agus, CBS News contributor told InsideEdition.com.
Fauci was born in Brooklyn and attended Regis High School in Manhattan's Upper East Side and was the captain of the school’s basketball team. After graduating in 1958, he attended College of the Holy Cross where he got a bachelor of arts in classics. He then attended medical school at Cornell University Medical College, where he graduated first in his class with a Doctorate of Medicine in 1966.
Two years later, he joined National Institutes of Health and worked his way up until he became director in 1984. Prior to his work as director, he and his mentor, the late Sheldon Wolff, helped develop a cure for the rare inflammatory disease vasculitis.
By the time he took on the role he has now, AIDS was at the forefront of global epidemics and thousands of people, mainly gay men and introvenous drug users, were dying due to the disease.
“As an impactful outbreak, HIV AIDS dwarfs anything else, including coronavirus,” Fauci told InsideEdition.com.
By the late 1980s, AIDS became the topic of discussion that was on many Americans' minds, as information evolved about the disease and it was brought to the people by Fauci. Many said that the Reagan administration was slow to respond, but Fauci remained nonpartisan on the issue both then and now.
“Science and health should not be political,” Agus said. “Dr. Fauci and the notion of what I feel and the country feels, what he is saying is apolitical. It is meant to protect each of us and our country going forward.”
Fauci brought people affected by AIDS to the table for conversation during the first Bush administration. As a result, the disease became more widely-discussed in America.
“What I learned from HIV is that in the beginning, you're dealing with an unknown phenomenon and you have to scramble as quickly as you can to find out what it is, what you can do about it, how to prevent it, how do you treat it,” he said.
Holding a position as his for as long as he has, he said, is like being “in the eye of the hurricane all the time.”
Does the weight of the entire nation’s health weight on him? “In certain respects it does” he answered.
“I accept that responsibility,” adding, “This is the life I have chosen, this is what my training has been. I've had the opportunity, which is a bit unique, in having an extensive experience in these types of things... It has its upside and its downside. You have the opportunity to make an impact.”
It’s a unique opportunity he doesn’t squander, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by his peers.
“When he talks people listen. We have seen it in the scientific world and we have seen it in the public world. He has an ability which most scientists don’t and most public pundits don’t and that is to say ‘I don’t know.’ I think when the public sees somebody that says ‘I don’t really know the answer to that we have to research more,’ they trust more rather than giving an answer all the time,” Agus said.
What Actually Worries Fauci
Fauci has been married to his wife, Christine Grady, since 1985. The couple have three children together.
It’s Grady, a nurse and bioethicist who serves as the head of the Department of Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, who reminds the nation’s top doctor to take care of himself.
“I try to get him to rest, to drink water, to eat well, to sleep, and to be selective about what he agrees to and say no to some things,” Grady told CNBC Make It in April.
But for Fauci, his priorities are clear: figure out the virus and do it quickly.
“There's so much to do, so much to explore, so many things going on. It's a challenge, but we've been through these kinds of challenges before. This has a degree of uniqueness about it because of the acuteness of it, and the altogether implications relating to the rapid spread of a previously unknown microbe,” he added.
Yet, as many in the country appear to be losing their patience with state-imposed lockdowns, Fauci has borne the brunt of the criticism with which those who urge caution meet.
“So it's that balance between [being] very, very attentive to the health and safety of people regarding coronavirus, against the balance which many, many people are pushing. I'm on the other side of that spectrum,” he said.
But the weight of his advice does not go unnoticed.
“You don't want to open up too quickly. That is my job to give the warnings of what that would mean. But I'm also very sensitive to the consequences of what it means when you shut down society. There are economic consequences that can ultimately have health disadvantages. People not getting surgeries they need, people not getting vaccinated, people not getting the kind of care that they need for non-coronavirus disorders and diseases,” he said.
If there’s one reason why Fauci’s fine, it’s because he has the gift of perspective.
“Well, I've had the opportunity with a lot of upsides of thought, or a lot of frustrations. In dealing with a number of outbreaks in my position, as you probably know, for over 35 years,” Dr. Fauci says.
While faced with the most daunting challenge of finding a cure for a disease that has killed over 328,000 people and infected over 5 million around the world, Fauci is focused on what comes next, too.
“I don't think you're going to change the subway system where people are smashed in like sardines on a rush hour,” he said. “I think what we might learn is something a little bit more sublime in there, that we all are interconnected and we depend upon each other. That as much as we can inadvertently hurt each other by spreading infections from one person to another, we can depend on each other to protect each other.”
Societal behaviors will be amended, but how much is still up for debate, he said.
“I think there's going to be, that is going to last at least for a long time and maybe forever, is the awareness of what devastation a transmissible respiratory virus can bring. I think like frequent hand washing, where appropriate, if you're sick, stay out of work. If your child is sick, don't send them [to school]. I think there's going to be an awareness of the fact that infectious diseases can spread, and even though historically the common cold and other things that spread, people don't pay any attention to, because it's seemingly inconsequential,” he explains.
And while there is currently no vaccine for coronavirus, Fauci is hopeful one will be developed.
“Since we know that many, many people recover from this novel coronavirus, even though we know it takes its toll in suffering and death, given the number of people throughout the world who have died already, but the people who do recover have proven to us that the body can make a good immune response,” he said.
“So we're counting on that proof of concept to guide us to getting a vaccine for coronavirus. When we get it, whether we get it next November or December or January or months or years from now, it's unclear. We're going to try to get it as quickly as we possibly can, but we all have cautious optimism that sooner or later we'll be successful in getting one.”
To accomplish what he’s set out to do, Fauci works between 18 and 20 hours a day. It’s a grueling schedule, but not one he’s looking for pity over. When asked how he was doing, Fauci laughed. “I’m doing fine.”
“It’s a very unusual situation, I’m running on fumes,” he continued. “But the fumes are pretty thick, so we’re doing pretty well.”