Near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul tested positive for the virus and famously continued roaming the halls of Congress and even hit the Senate gym. It’s more than fair to say he was one of the main culprits behind Congress’ initial coronavirus outbreak. There’s arguably no worse person in the federal government to debate the merits of masks, let alone parry with a renowned infectious disease doctor.
Paul tried it with Dr. Anthony Fauci anyway.
Fauci gives a master class on why masks are still important. Rand Paul desperately tries to keep playing politics with people’s lives.
I’ll listen to the infectious disease expert over the ophthalmologist when it comes to COVID. pic.twitter.com/iYVLDWK0Re
— Dr. John Biggan (@Biggan4Congress) March 18, 2021
Paul and Fauci had a “contentious” exchange during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in which the senator postulated if vaccinated or previously infected people (like himself) wearing masks was “just theater.” Fauci cut him down fairly easily, with an instantly headline-worthy quip: “Here we go again with the theater. Let’s get down to the facts.”
Quotable line aside, Fauci explained what most who’ve been paying attention already understood—that previous infection doesn’t make you immune from COVID-19, nor does vaccination. It simply reduces your risk of serious future infection, not whether you can actually catch and/or spread the virus. It’s understandable that people in the general public might not realize have all this information or understanding. But it’s downright pathetic coming from a sitting senator who still refuses to wear a mask and was at least partially responsible for a Congressional outbreak.
Paul’s position comes as no surprise, of course, and not because he’s used to getting his ass kicked. He’s one of many politicians willing to prioritize politics over people’s lives even as the pandemic appears to turn the corner. Apparently it’s never too late to try scoring political points even if you’ve been trailing by 30 since halftime.
From Fauci’s perspective, meanwhile, the exchange underscores the battles health experts are still fighting against politicians not only eager to open things up but disprove scientific research. Fauci himself is far from flawless; he’s virtually the only federal government official who has been absolved any blame for how badly the pandemic was handled, in part because of how well-received he was by the media. But his concerns about how Paul and other Republicans affect how the public continues to deal with COVID-19 are valid.
Dr. Fauci on @CuomoPrimeTime on Rand Paul. “I’m afraid if people hear what he says and believe it, and they have an elderly person who has been infected and they decide, ‘Well Rand Paul says let’s not wear a mask,’ they won’t. They can get reinfected again and get into trouble.”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) March 19, 2021
Telling constituents it’s effectively okay not to wear masks by calling their efficacy into question (or simply removing mask mandates for your entire state) is wildly irresponsible, perhaps more so at this moment of the pandemic than any other. Vaccinations have proven effective thus far, but with several COVID-19 variants continue floating around, it’s important to remind people to keep their guard up and maintain certain precautions as warmer weather rolls in.
Paul and Fauci’s “dustup,” if you can even call it that, is a fresh reminder of how far politicians are willing to go to discredit health experts. Fauci and others have been dealing with this ind of political hand-wringing for more than a year. Fortunately, when it’s coming from a pillock like Rand Paul, it’s easy enough to fight back.