Health officials have struggled to convey the seriousness of Covid-19 to many Americans. President Trump’s rapid recovery from the disease, while welcome by all, makes the challenge even more difficult, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases acknowledged.
Trump’s quick bounce-back from his infection will likely underscore the mistaken belief some people have that the disease does not present significant health risks, Fauci said in an interview with STAT.
“We’re all glad that the president of the United States did not suffer any significant consequences of it,” Fauci said. “But … because he is such a visible figure, it amplifies some of that misunderstanding that people have that it’s a benign disease and nobody has anything to worry about.”
The wide range of clinical manifestations of the disease — some people experience no symptoms, while others have everything from flu-like symptoms to life-threatening and even fatal pneumonia and blood clots — makes conveying the dangerousness of Covid-19 incredibly challenging, he said.
“It’s just a lot of understandable mixed signals, that it’s either serious or it’s not serious. It’s deadly or it’s not deadly. To me, that’s been the bane of trying to get a message across to people,” he said.
“It’s a problem that goes well beyond the president’s illness.”
Trump, who was considered at high risk of having severe Covid-19 because of his age, weight, and sex, was hospitalized for four days earlier this month after testing positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19. First lady Melania Trump also tested positive for the virus; White House doctors described her case as milder than the president’s. She did not need to be hospitalized.
The president required supplemental oxygen on at least two occasions before he was taken by helicopter to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Oct. 2. In the four days he was there, Trump was treated with an experimental antibody cocktail, the antiviral drug remdesivir, and the steroid dexamethasone.
He has since resumed work, holding a rally Monday in Florida where he declared himself to be immune to Covid-19, and heading to Iowa, a Covid-19 hot spot, on Wednesday. He has also tweeted that people should not let fear of the disease run their lives, asserting that he feels better now than he did 20 years ago.
Trump also continues to insist the virus will soon disappear, even though daily infection numbers are climbing in most parts of the country. So far in the pandemic, more than 7.8 million Americans have been infected and more than 215,000 have died.
Since movement restrictions were eased in the summer, many cases have occurred in young adults, a demographic group that rarely dies from the disease. Fauci and others have struggled to find a way to persuade people in this demographic that their behavior has a broader impact on communities.
“It’s just something that I’ve been struggling with for some time in messaging, when you try to get to young people and you tell them, ‘Wear a mask, avoid crowds.’ And they say, ‘Well, what’s the difference if I get infected? The overwhelming likelihood is that I’m not going to get seriously impacted. So, who cares?’” he said.
“And what they don’t grasp is that by getting infected, they’re propagating the outbreak. And by propagating the outbreak sooner or later a vulnerable person is going to get infected,” Fauci said. “It is a big deal.”