National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci has become a familiar talking head for every American since we became aware of the COVID-19 pandemic last March.
Though this talking head’s verbiage has been readily accepted by some, criticism from others against it has been relentless — and for good reason.
We remember the early days of the pandemic when Fauci flip-flopped on mask-wearing, ensured us the virus was “not something [we] should be worried about” and — let us not forget — pushed to abolish hand-shaking, even after the pandemic ends.
Let’s rewind to April of last year.
Almost one month after the novel coronavirus began taking the nation, and world, by storm, CNBC reported on Fauci’s fervent diss of the long-standing Western tradition, offering apprehensive readers a snapshot of how this “new normal” might affect them.
Americans would need to “gradually come back” from their pandemic lifestyles, Fauci said during an April 2020 episode of The Wall Street Journal podcast, adding that people should be reluctant to jump back into normalcy “with both feet.”
With traces of the pandemic still lingering around the country over a year later, we can say at least this claim was accurate.
But Fauci went further, identifying ways the pandemic could shape life going forward.
“I think that people are going to be careful. I don’t think we ever, should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you,” he stated on the podcast.
“Not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease; it probably would decrease the incidence of influenza dramatically in this country.”
Essentially, Fauci’s words translate to deleting the custom for good.
NPR also reported on Fauci’s takedown of hand-shaking last April, noting the two aspects of pandemic life the notorious doctor would like to see continue even after the coronavirus is a distant memory.
“One is handwashing,” host Ailsa Chang said.
“The other one is you don’t ever shake anybody’s hands. That’s clear,” Fauci added, chuckling.
He went on to diss the tradition yet again during an interview with Sinclair Broadcast Group’s chief political correspondent Scott Thurman that same month.
“As a society, just forget about shaking hands. We don’t need to shake hands. We’ve got to break that custom,” Fauci said, adding, “because as a matter of fact, that is really one of the major ways that you can transmit a respiratory born illness.”
So, which greeting should we adopt in its place? The classic hat tip? A curt nod? Or the beloved elbow bump some have adopted since the pandemic began?
According to the NPR report, Dr. Andrew Mehle, professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Wisconsin, said, “Not so fast.”
“If you’re close enough to elbow bump, you’re close enough to transmit,” Mehle added.
If you’re afraid of catching or spreading the virus, that puts you back at square one.
Will Americans ever be able to shake their ongoing apprehension about virus transmission?
Fauci didn’t seem to think so. During his WSJ podcast appearance, he also outlined practices of which Americans should — in his opinion — remain conscious.
Compulsive hand-washing was one again, of course (although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later updated its guidelines to add that COVID-19 could be spread at a distance through aerosols more often than surfaces).
A year and two months later, our hindsight reveals just how much is different. We see where Fauci missed the mark, we know how the science behind COVID-19 changed and how pandemic restrictions changed along with it.
Will Americans remain conscious of hygiene and keeping their distance as so many have been over the last year?
Maybe next year, we’ll be flashing back to explore that question again.
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