Fauci says that Trump's call to 'liberate' Virginia and Michigan during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic was 'like a punch to the chest'

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  • Fauci said he was taken aback by Trump’s calls to reopen states in the early days of the pandemic.
  • “It shocked me because it was such a jolt to what we were trying to do,” he said of Trump’s efforts.
  • By mid-spring, Trump expressed that the economic health of the US depended on state reopenings.
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Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top expert on infectious diseases, said during an interview that aired on Sunday that former President Donald Trump’s vocal support for citizens to push back against stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic “hit me like a punch in the chest.”

In a new CNN special report, Fauci said he was taken aback by Trump calling for states to reopen their governments beginning in mid-April last year, especially in the face of thousands of new COVID-19 infections and an alarming death rate.

Trump lacked the ability to lift the health restrictions that individual states put into place, so he sought to influence the debate and direct anti-lockdown sentiments mostly toward Democratic governors like Ralph Northam of Virginia and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan.

“The thing that hit me like a punch to the chest was then all of a sudden he got up and said ‘Liberate Virginia, Liberate Michigan,'” Fauci said of the former president. “And I said to myself, ‘Oh my goodness. What is going on here?'”

He added: “It shocked me because it was such a jolt to what we were trying to do.”

Deborah Birx, the former White House coronavirus response coordinator under Trump, said that the former president informed her at the time that the US would not close again going forward.

“The one policy directive he gave to me in April, which was the last time I really had any briefing with him in that kind of way, was we will never shut the country down again,” she told Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent. 

Last year, Trump strongly backed the reopening of states by April and May, saying that the country’s economic recovery depended on states being fully operational.

Many states lifted at least part of their most stringent restrictions by May and June last year, but by July, some of the reopenings were rolled back or restrictions were restored when infections spiked, notably in Arizona, California, and Texas.

Fauci, for his part, said that “best decision” he made was accelerating efforts for the production of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“When I saw what happened in New York City, almost overrunning of our health care system, it was like, ‘Oh my goodness,'” he said. “And that’s when it became very clear that the decision we made on January 10 — to go all out and develop a vaccine — may have been the best decision that I’ve ever made with regard to an intervention as director of the institute.”

Trump announced last May that “Operation Warp Speed” would launch to facilitate the development and distribution of a coronavirus vaccine shots for Americans.

As of Monday, 30 million-plus Americans have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than 549,000 have died of the illness, based on data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.