(CBS NEWS) – Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for more than three decades, has grappled with several public health crises, including the AIDS epidemic and now, COVID-19. In an interview with CNN’s David Axelrod, Fauci said the magnitude of criticism he is receiving now is different than in the past, and that he and his family have been seriously threatened.
On “The Axe Files” podcast, Axelrod asked Fauci about how he’s become a target during the pandemic, as people who have suffered economic hardships have become angry.
“I’ve seen a side of society that I guess is understandable, but it’s a little bit disturbing,” Fauci said. “You know, back in the days of HIV when I was being criticized with some hate mail, it was more, you know, people calling me a gay-lover and ‘What the hell are you wasting a lot of time on that?'”
Fauci said that criticism was pushed “aside as stupid people saying stupid things.”
“It’s really a magnitude different now because of the anger,” Fauci said. “As much as people inappropriately, I think, make me somewhat of a hero — and I’m not a hero, I’m just doing my job — there are people who get really angry at thinking I’m interfering with their life because I’m pushing a public-health agenda,” he continued.
Fauci said the amount of hate mail and serious threats are “not good.”
“It’s tough,” he said. “Serious threats against me, against my wife, against my daughters. I mean, really? Is this the United States of America?” Fauci said.
When Axelrod asked if he took on security measures, Fauci said yes, he’s been given security. The Department of Justice confirmed in April that federal officials were ramping up security for Fauci after threats were made against him. The increase in security came at the request of the Health and Human Services Inspector General, the officials said.
In this week’s interview, Fauci called the politicization of the coronavirus, “a reflection of the divisiveness in our society at the political level.” He said the coronavirus is a public health issue and “what we’re talking about are fundamental principles of public health.”
“I don’t see how people can have animosity to that. I understand you have to be careful because of the negative consequences of shutting down – that’s understandable. Which is why we are all trying to open up America again in a way that is safe, that we can do in a measured fashion,” he said. “But the hostility against public health issues is difficult not only to understand, but difficult to process.”
Fauci’s comments came as the number of coronavirus cases in the United States surpassed 4 million.