Mar 11, 2021 - Health

Fauci says COVID death toll would have "shocked" him a year ago

Speaking on the one-year anniversary of the pandemic declaration, White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci said Thursday he would have been "shocked" to hear a year ago that the U.S. coronavirus death toll would surpass 500,000.

Why it matters: It's a higher death toll than the number of U.S. soldiers killed in action in World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined. The White House projected on March 31 that the virus could kill 100,000–240,000 Americans — even with strict social distancing guidelines in place.

What they're saying: "It would have shocked me completely. I mean, I knew we were in for trouble," Fauci told NBC's "Today" when asked if he would have been surprised a year ago by the eventual death toll.

  • "In fact that day, at a congressional hearing I made the statement, 'Things are going to get much worse before they get better.' ... But I did not in my mind think that 'much worse' was going to be 525,000 deaths."
  • Fauci reiterated that a significant factor in world-leading U.S. death toll was the politicization of the virus in the pandemic's early days: "Even simple common sense public health measures took on a political connotation. ... It wasn't a pure public health approach, it was very much influenced by the divisiveness we have in this country."

What's next: “There is light at the end of the tunnel," Fauci said, though he warned that Americans must continue to wear masks "at a minimum."

Go deeper: Many vulnerable Americans have received the coronavirus vaccine

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