Why Rand Paul’s ‘government worrywart’ insult for Fauci is so off-base

Rand Paul is a Republican senator from Kentucky. He is also an ophthalmologist. What he is not is an infectious disease expert.

Which is what makes Paul’s repeated attempts to discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has run the infectious disease operation at the National Institutes of Health since the 1980s, all the more puzzling.

Paul had repeatedly antagonized Fauci during congressional hearings on the United States’ response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Last September, he raised questions about whether the mitigation policies championed by Fauci even work. (The data says they do.) On Thursday, Paul was at it again — questioning Fauci’s claims that people who have already had the virus or have had the Covid-19 vaccine should be wearing masks, and suggesting that those who do, like Fauci, are engaging in “theater.” (The CDC had advised vaccinated people to continue to wear masks because they could have the virus still present and pass it to other non-vaccinated people. They also could be vulnerable to other strains of the virus.)

Paul, never one to back down when facts dispute his beliefs, doubled down on his erroneous claims during an interview with “Fox & Friends” on Friday morning. Here’s Paul:

“Dr. Fauci gets this upside-down. He’s such a government worrywart that he says well, you might get [it] someday. Well, we might get anything. We might get the Spanish flu again. But that’s not the way science works. He needs to show us evidence as to why. It’s incumbent upon him to prove to us that we need to wear a mask, not the other way around.”

Let me quote from the CDC’s guidance on how vaccinated people should behave:

“We’re still learning how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19. After you’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you should keep taking precautions in public places like wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces until we know more.”

Now, Paul, who again is an ophthalmologist, not an epidemiologist or an infectious disease doctor, would likely take issue with guidance provided by an establishment entity like the CDC.

But here’s the thing: Paul’s entire argument — against masks and the broader mitigation efforts the government has taken to contain the spread of the coronavirus — is that we don’t have any long-term studies that suggest provide clear guidance about what to do in this next phase of our fight against Covid-19.

Again, here’s Paul from “Fox & Friends” Friday morning:

“Instead of saying it might happen, [Fauci] needs to show me a study — a scientific study showing that it is happening. Because I’m not willing to wear a mask for the rest of my life for something that might happen unless you show me that it actually is happening.”

Here’s the problem with Paul’s show-me-the-science mantra: The Covid-19 virus has only been around for 16 months or so. No one knew ANYTHING about it before it emerged in China in late 2019. So the idea that we could have definitive answers about every aspect of it — from masking to vaccines to herd immunity — is ridiculous. Or maybe to put a finer point on it — it’s totally unrealistic.

Paul is purposely using the lack of total clarity as to how the virus works and how we combat it to raise questions about whether what we are doing is right. But doesn’t it make a lot more sense when considering a new virus that has killed more Americans than World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined that we err on the side of caution in these (still) early days of understanding the medium- and long-term effects of Covid-19?

Yes, yes it does. Which is why what Paul is doing — using uncertainty to score political points — is both irresponsible and dangerous.

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