WASHINGTON — Maybe it was just a matter of time.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s top medical adviser on the coronavirus pandemic, has tested positive for the virus and has “mild symptoms,” the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said Wednesday.
Dr. Fauci, director of the institute, tested positive in a rapid antigen test, the agency said in a press release. He added that he was fully vaccinated against the virus and had received two boosters. He is taking Paxlovid, the Pfizer antiviral therapy authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of Covid-19, an agency spokeswoman said.
The news that Dr. Fauci, one of the world’s top infectious disease experts and a household name thanks to the pandemic, had fallen victim to the coronavirus reverberated in Washington and around the country. The positive test was the first for Dr Fauci, who is 81.
But with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that more than half of Americans have contracted Covid-19, he’s not the only big name to suffer. Xavier Becerra, the health and social services secretary, tested positive on Monday for the second time in less than a month. Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, 83, announced on Tuesday that she had tested positive; she had also done so in April.
Dr. Fauci has not been in close contact with Mr. Biden or other senior government officials recently and “will self-isolate and continue to work from home,” his institute’s statement said. He will return to his office once his test is negative.
But he had made public appearances. The AIDS Clinical Trials Group – a network of hundreds of researchers conducting studies to improve treatment for HIV and related infections – is meeting in Washington this week, and Dr. Fauci, whose lab work has focused on HIV/ SIDA, addressed the group in person on Tuesday.
Along with other top federal health officials, Dr. Fauci was scheduled to testify Thursday before the Senate Health Committee on the status of the pandemic. An official said Dr. Fauci’s institute was working with committee staff members to arrange a remote appearance.
While much of the nation seems to be trying to move on, the coronavirus remains an ever-present threat. According to a New York Times database, more than 100,000 new cases are still being identified each day in the United States – a figure that remained roughly stable in June. Many experts believe the number is underestimated because so many people take home tests whose results are not registered with public health authorities.
While cases are declining in the Northeast and Midwest, cases and hospitalizations are increasing in the West and South. Death reports, however, remain low. Fewer than 350 deaths are reported each day, according to the Times database, compared to more than 2,600 per day at the peak of Omicron’s surge.
Dr. Fauci spent half a century in government and advised seven presidents, beginning with Ronald Reagan, on epidemic and pandemic threats.
But the coronavirus pandemic has turned him into a political lightning rod. His public call for health precautions such as mask-wearing and social distancing made him a frequent target of critics who questioned or opposed such measures.
Perhaps more than anyone, he knows how infectious the coronavirus is. This spring, he decided not to attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner — a gathering of prominent political and media figures that featured an appearance by the president — “due to my individual assessment of my personal risk,” said he then declared. At the time, Dr. Fauci was preparing for other public engagements, including commencement speeches at Princeton and the University of Michigan.
The Correspondents’ Dinner, which drew more than 2,000 guests to a packed hotel ballroom, ended up spreading the virus among many reporters and other attendees.
“It’s a matter of time before we all get infected, honestly; this virus has become so transmissible,” Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease specialist at Emory University, said Wednesday. “What I tell people is that at some point you will encounter this virus, because we are doing more things and coming together. And if you’re going to encounter the virus, you’d better get vaccinated and boosted.