June 7, 2024

When Republican lawmakers on May 31 released a transcript from two days of closed-door interviews with the nation’s best-known infectious diseases expert, a portion of the transcript inspired a splashy headline.

“REVEALED: Dr. Anthony Fauci confesses he ‘made up’ covid rules including 6 feet social distancing and masking kids,” read aDaily Mail, a British publication.

“Bombshell testimony from Dr. Anthony Fauci reveals he made up the six foot social distancing rule and other measures to ‘protect’ Americans from covid,” the article’s first paragraph read.

of the Daily Mailsoon wentDzand were shared by, such as.

But the headline distorted what the transcript shows Fauci, formerly the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director and chief White House medical adviser, told members of the House Oversight Committee’s Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic in the January meeting.

When Republicans on the subcommitteealong with the transcript, they highlighted comments Fauci made about social distancing and masking children, but they did not say Fauci said he “made up” any rules.

What Fauci said about 6-foot social distancing

Starting on Page 183 of a 246-pageof Fauci’s second day of testimony, he said he was not aware of studies that supported the 6-foot social distancing guidelines that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention institutedin the pandemic.

Committee Staff Director Mitch Benzine asked Fauci whether he recalled when discussions about a 6-foot threshold began.

“You know,” Fauci replied, “I don’t recall. It sort of just appeared. I don’t recall, like, a discussion of whether it should be 5 or 6 or whatever. It was just that 6-foot is — ”

“Did you see any studies that supported 6 feet?” Benzine asked.

“I was not aware of studies that — in fact, that would be a very difficult study to do,” Fauci said.

After some back and forth, Fauci said the decision was “empiric,” whichmeans a determination based on experience rather than a precise understanding of the cause of something.

“I think it would fall under the category of empiric,” Fauci said. “Just an empiric decision that wasn’t based on data or even data that could be accomplished. But I’m thinking hard as I’m talking to you. … I don’t recall, like, a discussion of, ‘Now, it’s going to be’ — it sort of just appeared, that 6 feet is going to be the distance.”

What Fauci said about masking

Earlier in the hearing, Benzine and Fauci discussed masking for children. Starting on Page 135, the transcript shows Fauci did not say he “made up” masking rules, but that he didn’t recall specific studies supporting masking for children. Fauci emphasized the role of another agency — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — in making the masking guidelines. He also noted there were conflicting studies about masking’s negative effects on children.

Here are two exchanges on the topic:

Benzine noted that the World Health Organization recommended against masking children and asked Fauci whether there was a “cost-benefit analysis done on the unintended consequences of masking kids versus the protection that it would give them?”

“Not to my knowledge,” Fauci said.

Benzine then asked Fauci whether he felt masking children as young as 2 was necessary.

“I think it’s context-dependent,” Fauci responded. “It really depends on where you are. I think you were having a time like when you’re having a tsunami of infections and you’re desperately trying to protect people from getting infected and dying to the point where every one of our healthcare facilities are in danger of overrunning, you might want to do something that might seem -— what’s the right word? — excessive, whereas under most other circumstances, you won’t. And I believe the CDC felt at that time that that’s what was needed given the dire — I would say, the dire situation that we were in.”

Later in the exchange, Benzine also asked Fauci whether he recalled reviewing any studies or data supporting masking for children.

“You know, I might have, Mitch,” Fauci answered, “but I don’t recall specifically that I did. I might have.”

Benzine asked Fauci whether he followed any studies about masking and negative effects on children, such as on speech and learning loss.

“No,” Fauci responded. “But I believe that there are a lot of conflicting studies, too, that there are those that say, ’Yes, there is an impact,’ and there are those that say there’s not. I still think that’s up in the air. I mean, I’m very sensitive to children. I have children and I have grandchildren. So, I don’t want to have anything that would do to harm them. But I think that there was a conflicting discussion about the negative impact on speech and formation of the bones of the face and that, I think, was debunked pretty easily.”

What Fauci said in his live testimony

Three days after the committee released Fauci’s transcript, Fauci appeared before the subcommittee andpublicly, as had been planned before the transcript’s release. During the hearing, Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., accused Republicans of sitting on the transcript for months and mischaracterizing some of Fauci’s statements. She asked whether he wanted to clear anything up publicly.

“One I’m sure is going to come up later is the issue of the 6-foot distance,” Fauci answered. “And I made the statement that it just appeared and that got taken like I don’t know what’s going on, it just appeared. It actually came from the CDC. The CDC was responsible for those kinds of guidelines for schools, not me.”

He also clarified what he meant when he said he had not seen any studies that support the guideline.

“What I meant by no science behind it, is that there wasn’t a controlled trial that said compare 6 foot with 3 feet with 10 feet,” he said.

He said he thought the CDC used past studies about the spread of droplets to make that decision, before health officials realized the virus was spread through the air.

Rep. John Joyce, R-Pa., pressed Fauci about why he didn’t challenge the CDC on the 6-foot guideline when it was clear the virus was aerosolized (meaning tiny virus particles that can get suspended in the air). Fauci said it was the CDC’s decision to make and that it wasn’t appropriate to publicly challenge a sister health organization.

At one point in the hearing, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R.-Ga., held up an enlarged copy of the Daily Mail headline and said, “Mr. Fauci, you also represent the type of science where you confessed that you made up the COVID rules, including 6-feet social distancing and masking of children.”

“I never said I made anything up,” Fauci said.

“You admitted that you made up, that you made it up as you went,” Greene said.

“I didn’t say I made it up,” Fauci said.

“So, are you saying this is fake news, Mr. Fauci?” Greene asked.

“I didn’t say I made anything up,” Fauci said.

“What did you say?” Greene asked.

“I said that it is not based in science and it just appeared,” Fauci said.

A CDC spokesperson told PolitiFact that the 6-foot recommendation was based in part onexamining how respiratory droplets travel. That research was used because there was no other data for COVID-19, the spokesperson said. The guidance wasAug. 11, 2022, to no longer recommend 6-foot distancing because of widespread immunity and effective treatments, the spokesperson said.

The revelation about the 6-foot rule is not new. Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC director in former President Donald Trump’s administrationbefore a House panel March 17, 2022, about early mitigation efforts.

“There was no magic around 6 feet. It’s just historically that’s what was used for other respiratory pathogens,” Redfield said. “So, that really became the first piece.”

Fauci’s live hearing also touched on mask mandates for children. Rep. Mike Cloud, R-Texas, asked whether there was scientific evidence supporting that guideline.

“There was no study that did masks on kids before,” Fauci said. “You couldn’t do the study. You had to respond to an epidemic that was killing 4(,000) to 5,000 Americans per day.”

PolitiFact Staff Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

This fact check was originally , which is part of the Poynter Institute. See the sources for this fact check .

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Donate
Jeff Cercone is a contributing writer for PolitiFact. He has previously worked as a content editor for the Chicago Tribune and for the South Florida…
Jeff Cercone

More News

Back to News

Comments

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. .