Speaking at President Trump’s press conference late Monday afternoon, Dr. Anthony Fauci mentioned Iowa, and a clip of his comments was quickly posted on Gov. Reynolds’ official Twitter account.
— Gov. Kim Reynolds (@IAGovernor) April 6, 2020
In the clip, Fauci appears to be endorsing the actions of Reynolds and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, even though neither governor has issued any shelter-in-place orders. Only Iowa, Arkansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota have no shelter-in-place orders at all. Three more states — Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming — have shelter-in-place orders that apply to parts of their states. All eight states have Republican governors who are supporters of President Trump.
During a CNN town hall last week, Fauci was asked about states that hadn’t yet ordered shelter-in-place, and he said, “I don’t understand why that’s not happening.” Fauci has been clear that he believes mandatory shelter-in-place orders are important in limiting the spread of COVID-19.
Reynolds was asked about Fauci’s CNN comment at her Friday press conference.
“I would say that maybe he doesn’t have all the information,” the governor replied.
Reynolds and Rickett had a combined phone call with Fauci on Monday afternoon. The governor’s official account tweeted about the call before Fauci made his comments at the Trump press conference.
Had a productive and positive phone call w/ Dr. Fauci and @GovRicketts today… Dr. Fauci was 100% supportive, saying that IA and NE are “on the same page” with guidance he’s providing other states.
— Gov. Kim Reynolds (@IAGovernor) April 6, 2020
It’s worth putting Fauci’s comments at the press conference in context.
Fauci has been director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. He started in his position during the growing AIDS crisis, working under a president, Ronald Reagan, who was largely ignoring the disease and uninterested in science.
Fauci has always been diplomatic when it comes to dealing with elected officials, and never directly contradicts them in public, For example, he has been very gentle in pushing back against Trump’s repeated suggestion that people use hydroxychloroquine, a drug approved to treat malaria and lupus, to either cure or prevent COVID-19.
“What have you got to lose?” Trump has repeatedly asked.
Fauci has pointed out that the drug’s effectiveness in countering COVID-19 hasn’t been proven by clinical trials. He has not, however, mentioned that hydroxychloroquine can cause heart arrhythmia that leads to cardiac arrest, and can damage a person’s vision.
Fauci’s remarks about Iowa and Nebraska on Monday were part of a response to a reporter’s question about why Trump hasn’t ordered governors to issue shelter-in-place orders.
“There are a number of governors who are close allies of yours, Mr. President, who have refrained thus far to have these stay-at-home orders,” the reporter said. “Dr. Fauci who, of course, is on your task force, has said that the states that don’t have stay-at-home orders are putting themselves at risk and the country at risk.”
“If Dr. Fauci said that I would be inclined to call them up,” Trump replied. “We do have a constitutional problem in doing that. You understand that. I mean there’s a double-edge, so you understand.”
After a few more vague comments about federalism, Trump concluded by saying, “But I’m not sure, 100 percent, that Dr. Fauci said that.”
The president then turned the podium over to Fauci.
(The video starts with the reporter’s comments.)
Rather than repeat what he has already publicly said or address whether Trump should tell governors to order shelter-in-place, Fauci talked about his call with Reynolds and Ricketts, as Trump stood next to him.
I had good conversations with the governor of Nebraska and the governor of Iowa here. And it’s interesting that functionally, even though they have not given strict stay-at-home, what they are doing is really functionally equivalent to that. And we had a really good conversation with both of the governors.
You know, when I had mentioned that, I think there was a public response that they weren’t really doing anything at all, and they really are doing a very good job. Both of them. Those are the only two that I spoke to, but it was a really good conversation. And I want to make sure that people understand that just because they don’t have a very strict stay-at-home order, they have in place a lot of things that are totally compatible with what everyone else is doing.
It’s become a standard talking point for Reynolds that her actions to date are basically the same as a shelter-in-place order. At the same time, the governor maintains that a shelter-in-place order isn’t warranted by current conditions, and issuing one could actually be damaging to both the state’s ability to cope with COVID-19 and the mental well-being of Iowans.
On Friday, the Iowa Board of Medicine, the body that licenses physicians and regulates the practice of medicine in the state, voted unanimously to recommend Reynolds issue a statewide shelter-in-place order. The Iowa Medical Society, which represents 6,800 doctors in the state, has also sent Reynolds a letter asking for a shelter-in-place order.