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5 Things We Learned From Anthony Fauci's Emails

Thousands of pages of Dr. Anthony Fauci's work emails from January to June 2020 have been released via Freedom of Information Act requests by news organizations. Fauci is seen here before he testifies in front of a Senate committee last June.
Kevin Dietsch
AFP via Getty Images
Thousands of pages of Dr. Anthony Fauci's work emails from January to June 2020 have been released via Freedom of Information Act requests by news organizations. Fauci is seen here before he testifies in front of a Senate committee last June.

For many Americans, Dr. Anthony Fauci quickly became the face of trust and reason against the coronavirus pandemic. He was a reliable man of science while the Trump White House often played politics in its decision-making.

Fauci, the 80-year-old director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was seemingly everywhere as the pandemic emerged, appearing at White House coronavirus task force briefings and doing interviews with an enormous range of media outlets, answering questions basic and complex as the dangerous new virus wreaked havoc on the U.S. and the world.

Now a fresh window into Fauci's life and work has opened, as thousands of pages of Fauci's work emails from the early months of the pandemic have been released to BuzzFeed and The Washington Post via Freedom of Information Act requests.

BuzzFeed has posted its entire trove here for public perusal. These are some things that we found as we pored through the archive.

Americans wrote to Fauci with very specific questions about what to do

Fauci received an email from someone planning a scientific conference scheduled for July 2020 in Tampa, Fla. The person wrote to Fauci asking for a prediction of what the effects of the virus would be then.

"There is no way of knowing for sure. I would wait until May and see what the dynamics of the outbreak are globally and make your decision then whether or not to cancel," Fauci replied.

One woman wanted to know whether someone who had been vaccinated against pneumonia would have any protection against COVID-19. "I know that you must be completely busy and inundated with people wanting your time, I apologize that I have nothing to offer in return and completely understand if you don't have time to answer," she wrote.

Fauci replied an hour later, laying out distinctions between pure viral pneumonia and bacterial pneumonia, and suggested she get the pneumonia vaccine if she's over 65.

The woman was stunned to receive a response from the nation's top infectious disease expert.

"Oh my God," she wrote. "I honestly never expected you to reply and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being so generous!"

A National Institutes of Health (NIH) colleague wrote to Fauci on March 4 to ask whether the weekend's religious services should be canceled at a house of worship after a coronavirus case was apparently identified.

"You should counsel the rabbi to cancel the services," Fauci replied.

He pushed back on the suggestion that the Trump White House was muzzling him

On March 8, 2020, AIDS activist and Yale University epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves emailed Fauci, along with Robert Redfield, then the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; NIH Director Francis Collins; Alex Azar, then the secretary of health and human services; and others.

Gonsalves wrote, "There are thousands of people waiting for advice from our federal government on broader social distancing measures in light of the fact that our failure in early testing and surveillance means the coronavirus is likely already spreading in our communities."

"All we see is genuflection in word and deed from most of you to a White House that wants this all to magically go away," he went on.

Fauci replied a few hours later: "Gregg: I am surprised that you included me in your note. I genuflect to no one but science and always, always speak my mind when it comes to public health. I have consistently corrected misstatements by others and will continue to do so."

Gonsalves replied to Fauci that "that part of the message was not directed at you. ... Bob Redfield and Secretary Azar haven't been as forthright as you have."

"Understood. I appreciate your note. I will keep pushing," Fauci responded.

Fauci gets a ton of email — and he replies to a surprising amount of it

Fauci would get about 1,000 emails a day, he told the Post in a recent interview.

"I was getting every single kind of question, mostly people who were a little bit confused about the mixed messages that were coming out of the White House and wanted to know what's the real scoop," Fauci told the newspaper. "I have a reputation that I respond to people when they ask for help, even if it takes a long time. And it's very time-consuming, but I do."

Some of those who wrote to him were people in positions of power. Others were simply thanking him for speaking clearly and forcefully during a time of crisis and fear.

"You always do the right thing," wrote one man who seemed to know Fauci, addressing him as Tony. "We'll do the praying and you go Keep doing the hard work."

"Many thanks for your kind note. I hope all is well with you," Fauci replied.

One doctor wrote to Fauci: "In my review of the data there is a negative association with smoking. Should smoking cessation be mentioned during public announcements to help discourage smoking?"

Fauci replied 20 minutes later: "Smoking is terrible under any circumstance."

Sometimes regular people without scientific or medical training would write to him with suggestions of how the coronavirus works or ideas they thought Fauci should look into.

"Thank you for your note," Fauci often replied.

He was uncomfortable with his sudden celebrity

On March 31, 2020, the chief of staff for Fauci's office emailed him an article from the Post that carried the headline "Fauci socks, Fauci doughnuts, Fauci fan art: The coronavirus expert attracts a cult following."

Fauci replied: "Truly surrealistic. Hopefully, this all stops soon."

"It is not at all pleasant, that is for sure," Fauci added.

But he found some upsides in fame too

Fauci wasn't above taking the occasional perk of sudden fame, at least as a baseball fan.

A booking agent reached out to Fauci on behalf of Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman about appearing for a Q&A on the ballplayer's Facebook page.

An NIH communications officer replied: "As a huge Nats fan, Dr. Fauci very much wants to do this chat with Ryan Zimmerman."

After arranging the interview, the NIH staffer wrote to Fauci, "Ps – what do you want to bet you get invited to throw a first pitch next year?"

"I was thinking the very same thing," Fauci replied.

Indeed, Fauci took the mound for opening day in July 2020 in a red Nats mask and made the first pitch. It was not a great throw.

Perhaps he was tired from dealing with his overstuffed email inbox, among the many, many other things on his plate at the time.

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Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.