Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP
Dr. Anthony Fauci clashed with Rep. Jim Jordan at a House subcommittee hearing on Friday over whether the government should crack down on protests to curb the spread of COVID-19.
"I'm not in a position to determine what the government can do in a forceful way," Fauci said, adding, "You should stay away from crowds, no matter where the crowds are."
Jordan repeatedly tried to corner Fauci into saying the government should limit protests, but Fauci refused, saying it was not his place to weigh in on what the government should or shouldn't do.
"I don't understand what you're asking me, as a public-health official, to opine on who should get arrested or not," Fauci said. "That's not my position. You could ask me as much as you want, and I'm not going to answer it."
Scroll down to watch a clip of the exchange.
Dr. Anthony Fauci and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan got into a heated back-and-forth on Friday during a House subcommittee hearing on the novel coronavirus.
Jordan, one of President Donald Trump's biggest attack dogs on Capitol Hill, repeatedly asked Fauci to weigh in on whether widespread protests helped to spread COVID-19.
Fauci said that in general, large crowds, particularly those including people who aren't wearing masks, contribute to higher infection and transmission rates.
"Should government limit the protesting?" Jordan asked.
"I don't think that's relevant," Fauci said, adding, "I'm not in a position to determine what the government can do in a forceful way."
Jordan pressed Fauci, saying, "You make all kinds of recommendations."
He said that state governments were limiting people attending church services and asked Fauci, "Is there a world where the Constitution says you can favor one First Amendment liberty, protesting, over another, practicing your faith?"
"I'm not favoring anybody over anybody," Fauci said. "I'm just making a statement that's a broad statement, that avoid crowds of any type, no matter where you are, because that leads to the acquisition and transmission. And I don't judge one crowd versus another crowd. When you're in a crowd, particularly if you're not wearing a mask, that induces the spread."
"I haven't seen people during a church service go out and harm police officers or burn buildings, but we know that for 63 days, nine weeks, it's been happening in Portland," Jordan said, referring to the protests against racism and police brutality in the city since the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day. Many of the demonstrations devolved into violence after federal law-enforcement agents used tear gas, rubber bullets, and other materials to disperse protesters.
There's "no limit to protests," Jordan said, but "you can't go to church on Sunday."
"I don't know how many times I can answer that," Fauci responded. "I'm not going to opine on limiting anything."
Jordan pushed back, telling Fauci he had "opined on a lot of things."
"You should stay away from crowds, no matter where the crowds are," Fauci said.
"Government has stopped people from going to work," Jordan said, citing reports about two people who were arrested after reopening their gym. He added, "Do you see the inconsistency though, Dr. Fauci?"
Fauci said there was "no inconsistency." Jordan replied, "You're allowed to protest — millions of people on one day, in crowds, yelling, screaming — but you try to run your business, you get arrested?"
Fauci, who appeared to be getting increasingly frustrated, said: "I don't understand what you're asking me, as a public-health official, to opine on who should get arrested or not. That's not my position. You could ask me as much as you want, and I'm not going to answer it."
Jordan then claimed that Fauci had said protests increased the spread of the virus, but Fauci pushed back. "I said crowds," he said. "I didn't say specifically — I didn't say protests."
"So the protests don't increase the spread of the virus?" Jordan said.
"I didn't say that," Fauci said. "You're putting words in my mouth."
He added: "I can tell you that crowds are known, particularly when you don't have a mask, to increase the acquisition and transmission, no matter what the crowd is."
—Rep. Jim Jordan (@Jim_Jordan) July 31, 2020
The US's coronavirus death toll this week surpassed 151,000, the highest of any country. When asked how other countries managed to bring their COVID-19 outbreaks under control, Fauci said that when the pandemic began, countries in Europe and Asia shut down 95% of their economies while the US shut down only 50%.
At the hearing, South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn displayed a graphic showing the spike in cases in the US compared with cases in Europe, drawing Trump's ire.
"Somebody please tell Congressman Clyburn, who doesn't have a clue, that the chart he put up indicating more CASES for the U.S. than Europe, is because we do MUCH MORE testing than any other country in the World," Trump tweeted.
—Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 31, 2020
But multiple public-health officials and scientific experts have pointed out that while the US has rapidly expanded its testing and contact-tracing ability, that alone doesn't account for the increase in new cases.
"That states are finding more cases relative to the amount of tests they are conducting provides the strongest rebuttal to the administration's assertion that case numbers are rising because we're getting better at finding cases through increased testing," Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote in The Washington Post last month.
"They tell us the opposite — that each of these states needs to do even more testing to find infections — followed by more rigorous contact tracing and isolation."
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