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President Trump again criticized Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, during a campaign rally in North Carolina on Thursday, claiming without evidence that the NIAID director is "a Democrat," and accusing him of downplaying the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Since the onset of the pandemic, Trump has repeatedly undermined Fauci, who has five decades of public service, describes himself as apolitical and is not registered with either party. In public statements and tweets, Trump has accused Fauci of blundering the government's response to the virus.

What he's saying: "And, yeah, my friend — and he's a nice guy — Tony, Tony Fauci," Trump said to his crowd of supporters, who booed in response.

  • "He said, 'This is not a threat; this is not a problem. Don't worry about it.' Then he said, 'Do not wear a mask. Do not wear a mask under any circumstances Don't wear a mask. Don't, don't don't,' right? Then we don't wear a mask. Then they say wear a mask."
  • "But he's a nice guy, so I keep him around, right? We keep him around. He's a Democrat, everybody knows that. He's [New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's] friend. Cuomo did the worst job of any governor in the United States."

The other side: "Give me a break — More than 216,000 Americans  died because of the federal government's incompetent and bumbling pandemic response and — Trump knew the whole time how deadly it was and never raised the alarm," Rich Azzopardi, senior adviser to Cuomo, said in statement.

The big picture: Multiple Trump administration health officials, not just Fauci, said that people did not need to wear face coverings to protect against the virus in the early days of the pandemic, but later reversed those recommendations.

  • U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who in February urged people to stop buying masks, said in July that he and other health officials initially feared that people would hoard personal protective equipment when hospitals had depleted supplies.
  • Fauci has supported the use of face masks for all Americans since the CDC advised accordingly in April.
  • Trump has routinely mocked people for wearing masks, even after top health officials have asked Americans to wear them to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Of note: Fauci said in a recent interview with CNN that he remains uninvolved in politics and has never endorsed a candidate. He has served in his position under both Democratic and Republican presidents.

Go deeper: Fauci says Trump campaign ad took his comments out of context

Go deeper

Biden unveils "wartime" COVID strategy

Biden signs executive orders on Jan. 21. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

"It's gonna get worse before it gets better": President Biden expects 100,000 Americans to die from COVID-19 during his first six weeks in office.

The big picture: Biden said he's putting America on a wartime footing against the virus, signing 10 executive orders today alone.

Jan 22, 2021 - Health

CDC extends interval between COVID vaccine doses for exceptional cases

Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty

Patients can space out the two doses of the coronavirus vaccine by up to six weeks if it’s "not feasible" to follow the shorter recommended window, according to updated guidance from the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention.

Driving the news: With the prospect of vaccine shortages and a low likelihood that supply will expand before April, the latest changes could provide a path to vaccinate more Americans — a top priority for President Biden.