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President Trump and NIAID director Anthony Fauci during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in April. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

NIAID director Anthony Fauci praised the Biden campaign's coronavirus stance, criticized White House adviser Scott Atlas and offered a bleak assessment of the U.S. pandemic response in an interview with the Washington Post, published Saturday.

Why it matters: Fauci's comments are perhaps his most frank yet and come as COVID-19 cases surge across the U.S. The White House called Fauci's remarks three days out from the election "unacceptable." Atlas publicly responded to his fellow coronavirus task force member in a tweet late Saturday.

Driving the news: In the wide-ranging interview conducted Friday, Fauci said the U.S. was "in for a whole lot of hurt" going into the fall and winter, with people congregating indoors. "You could not possibly be positioned more poorly," he noted.

  • On presidential candidate Joe Biden's approach to the pandemic, Fauci said the Democrat's campaign "is taking it seriously from a public health perspective."
  • President Trump is "looking at it from a different perspective," on "the economy and reopening the country," Fauci said.
  • On Atlas, a radiologist, Fauci said: "I have real problems with that guy. He's a smart guy who’s talking about things that I believe he doesn’t have any real insight or knowledge or experience in. He keeps talking about things that when you dissect it out and parse it out, it doesn’t make any sense."

Context: Twitter took down a tweet by Atlas for making false claims about face masks in October. He also made false comments on herd immunity.

What they're saying: White House spokesman Judd Deere said in an emailed statement, "It's unacceptable and breaking with all norms for Dr. Fauci, a senior member of the President's Coronavirus Taskforce and someone who has praised President Trump's actions throughout this pandemic, to choose three days before an election to play politics."

"As a member of the Task Force, Dr. Fauci has a duty to express concerns or push for a change in strategy, but he's not done that, instead choosing to criticize the President in the media and make his political leanings known by praising the President's opponent."

The big picture: The U.S. has for months reported the highest COVID-19 death toll and infection numbers in the world.

  • The country hit some grim COVID-19 milestones in the past week, surpassing 9 million cases on Friday and setting a single-day record of 88,452 new infections a day earlier.
  • More than 230,500 people have died from the virus and over 9.1 million tested positive as of Sunday morning, per Johns Hopkins.
  • A representative for Fauci did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

Go deeper

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
17 hours ago - Health

U.S. coronavirus hotspots far outpacing Europe's

Data: CSSE Johns Hopkins University, Census Bureau, United Nations; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

America's coronavirus outbreak has surpassed Europe's.

Why it matters: It wasn't long ago that public health experts were pointing to Europe as a warning sign for the U.S. But the U.S. now has a higher per capita caseload than the EU ever has during its recent surge.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: Key information about the effective COVID-19 vaccines — Oxford and AstraZeneca's vaccine won't just go to rich countries.
  2. Health: U.S. coronavirus hospitalizations keep breaking recordsWhy we're numb to 250,000 deaths.
  3. World: England to impose stricter regional systemU.S. hotspots far outpacing Europe's — Portugal to ban domestic travel for national holidays.
  4. Economy: The biggest pandemic labor market drags.
  5. Sports: Coronavirus precautions leave college basketball schedule in flux.
Updated 18 hours ago - World

Oxford University says its coronavirus vaccine is up to 90% effective

A scientist working during at the Oxford Vaccine Group's laboratory facility at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, England, in June. Photo: Steve Parsons/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The University of Oxford announced Monday that a COVID-19 vaccine it's developed with AstraZeneca is 70.4% effective in preventing people from developing symptoms, per interim data from Phase 3 trials.

Why it matters: The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is shown to work in different age groups and can be stored at fridge temperature. It is much cheaper than other vaccines in development and is part of the global COVAX initiative, designed to ensure doses go where they're most needed.