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Fauci’s 2,000 emails a day show how little U.S. officials knew in the early days of the Covid pandemic

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director at the National Institute Of Allergy and Infectious Diseases attends a U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine the COVID-19 response, focusing on an update from federal officials, on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 18, 2021.

Anna Moneymaker | Pool | Reuters

On April 12, 2020, an official at the National Institutes of Health emailed Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, and then CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield fretting about the increasing hostilities between the U.S. and World Health Organization over the coronavirus pandemic.

Then President Donald Trump was threatening to withdraw funding from the international health organization for getting “every aspect” of the outbreak wrong 

“I am concerned about the recent fight between the US and WHO because it may adversely impact the current global efforts in controlling the spread of COVID-19,” said the email, which also raised questions about the accuracy of China’s Covid-19 case and fatality data.

Fauci responded: “This pandemic has been extremely challenging for many countries around the globe including China and the USA. I can only say that I (and I am sure that Bob Redfield feels the same way) prefer to look forward and not to assign blame or fault.”

“There are enough problems ahead that we must face together,” he added.

Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) lift a patient that was identified to have coronavirus disease (COVID-19) into an ambulance while wearing protective gear, as the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in New York City, New York, U.S., March 26, 2020.

Stefan Jeremiah | Reuters

Emails released

The message from the NIH official, whose name is redacted, was made public as part of a dump of thousands of Fauci’s emails from the first half of 2020, which were obtained by BuzzFeed News and other media outlets through the Freedom of Information Act. As director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases within NIH, Fauci was at the center of the storm.

The anxious note, and Fauci’s ominous reply, illustrate the chaos of the moment.

Covid cases and deaths in the U.S. had climbed to terrifying new highs since Trump declared the pandemic a national emergency a month before. State leaders had issued draconian lockdown orders, upending millions of lives and prompting an economic freefall. Testing, social distancing and contact tracing were in their infancy, hospitals were overwhelmed, crucial protective equipment was running short and vaccines had yet to be developed.

U.S. President Donald Trump declares the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency as Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar listen during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, March 13, 2020.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

The president, who in January and February heaped praise on China’s response to the outbreak of the emergent virus, had sharply reversed his tone, slamming the WHO and Beijing and blaming both for the crisis.

Fauci had been receiving emails from people saying that a pandemic appeared likely in the days and weeks before the WHO’s official declaration on March 11, 2020.

Some asked him whether they should cancel large, in-person events, while others spitballed ideas for potential treatments and solutions to the outbreak. Some asked whether he thought Americans were adequately prepared.

2,000 emails a day

Fauci showed patience, diplomacy and diligence in his often late-night replies to high-level U.S. officials, famous performers and everyday people. The emails also show the tremendous physical and sometimes emotional toll the pandemic was taking on Fauci, who had become one of the most trusted sources of information on Covid-19 under a sometimes disjointed response under the Trump administration.

On Feb. 18, 2020, Fauci received an email from an apparent old acquaintance who asked if he was in town for a potential meet-up over the weekend. Fauci apologized, writing that he would not be able to connect and asked if they could meet some other time as he was working nonstop.

“The White House and HHS have me going 24/7 including Saturday and Sunday with the coronavirus crisis. I have seen my wife … for a total of about 45 minutes over the past 10 days,” he wrote. “I hope that you understand.”

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, center, speaks as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, right, and Deborah Birx, coronavirus response coordinator, listen during a news conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, March 2, 2020.

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

By late March, when the U.S. had a little over 153,000 Covid cases, Fauci apologized for taking so long to get back to another old friend, saying he was receiving more than 2,000 emails a day. In a separate email a few days later to Dr. J. Larry Jameson, a fellow physician at the University of Pennsylvania, Fauci said he was “completely swamped” and was getting “3 to 4 hours sleep per night.”

Offers of help

His emails are peppered with pitches from people of widely varying levels of expertise offering their best guesses for how to deal with the ongoing crisis.

One person who reached out in early March, describing himself as “neither a physician or a scientist,” suggested that the government expose U.S. adults to other known and “less lethal” coronaviruses to try to develop some level of immunity against the new virus.

Fauci responded at 10:50 p.m.: “Thank you for your note. AS Fauci.”

Quilter Ami Simms reached out in mid-March to offer her services to the NIH in making a pattern for face masks. She said she’s mobilized quilters for other causes in the past and there were “millions of sewers who would be delighted to step up and help right now.” Fauci forwarded the email to Dr. Andrea Lerner, a top medical officer at his agency.

Woman Holding Homemade Face Mask

Isabel Pavia | Moment | Getty Images

His responses show the inbox-clogging input wasn’t always welcome.

“Please read this and figure out what the heck he is talking about and act according to your judgment,” Fauci wrote in a March 7, 2020 email to an NIH official, referring to a message he received making claims about a “game-changer” for Covid detection.

“Only 498 emails to go tonight,” Fauci added.

The varied advice and questions Fauci received over those early months showed just how much leading U.S. and international scientists, including Fauci himself, didn’t know about Covid at the beginning of the pandemic.

Eerie early warnings

The question of masks came up early and often and some of Fauci’s advice later proved to be wrong.

In a Feb. 5, 2020 email to American University President Sylvia Burwell, who served as HHS secretary under former President Barack Obama, Fauci advised her against wearing a mask at the airport. “The typical mask you buy in the drugstore is not really effective at keeping the virus out, which is small enough to pass through the material,” he wrote.

Pedestrians wearing protective masks to help stop the spread of a deadly virus which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan, walk on a street in Tokyo’s Ginza area on January 25, 2020.

Charly Triballeau | AFP | Getty Images

Chinese immunologist George Gao reached out to Fauci in late March to apologize for criticizing the U.S. mask policy. “How could I say such a word ‘big mistake’ about others? That was the journalist’s wording. Hope you understand,” Gao wrote on March 28.

The U.S. wouldn’t change its mask guidance until July.

Some of the email chains also turned out to be eerily prophetic.

Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson reached out to Fauci March 2, 2020 when there were 91 confirmed cased in the U.S., saying NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins told him that 5% to 20% of the country could get infected with Covid.

“A pandemic now appears likely,” he said. “Depending on the mortality rate, this could result in hundreds of thousands of deaths,” he wrote. Fauci said he was correct. Even if the mortality was 1% and just 5% of the U.S. population got it it, “we could have a few hundred thousand deaths,” he responded at 6:11 a.m.

Wuhan Institute of Virology

A Feb. 1 email from Fauci’s deputy director at National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Hugh Auchincloss, indicates the agency was trying to determine whether it was involved in so-called gain of function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The lab has since been thrust into the spotlight on the debate over the origins of the virus after media reports surfaced that at least three researchers there had become sick enough from a Covid-like infection in Nov. 2019 to seek hospital treatment.

Security personnel keep watch outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology during the visit by the World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Wuhan, Hubei province, China February 3, 2021.

Thomas Peter | Reuters

Fauci the heartthrob

Brad Pitt as Dr. Anthony Fauci during the “Fauci Cold Open” on “Saturday Night Live” on April 25, 2020.

NBC | NBCUniversal | Getty Images

“Our society is really totally nuts,” Fauci wrote in reaction to a similar piece documenting “Fauci Fever” and the online “sexualization” of the now-80-year-old virologist.

His face was branded on clothing, food and drinks, and he was referenced constantly both in the news and entertainment media. Fauci in a March 31 email reacted to a Washington Post article about his “cult following,” calling it “truly surrealistic.”

“Hopefully this all stops soon,” Fauci wrote. He added in a follow up: “It is not at all pleasant, that is for sure.”

But the records show Fauci was flattered by at least one portrayal of him: Brad Pitt’s version on Saturday Night Live. “Pitt was amazing,” Fauci wrote to a colleague on April 27. “One reviewer of the SNL show said that Pitt looked ‘exactly like me.’ That statement made my year.”

“Now, you also have the answer on who would play you in the movie,” replied Tara Schwetz, the associate deputy director of the NIH. Fauci indulged in the idea: “You could play the role of my medical school girlfriend, which would give you the possibility of working with Brad Pitt.”

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Here’s what you need to know

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People queue outside a vaccination center in Sydney on June 24, 2021, as residents were largely banned from leaving the city to stop a growing outbreak of the highly contagious Delta Covid-19 variant spreading to other regions.

SAEED KHAN | AFP | Getty Images

The “delta variant” has come to dominate headlines, having been discovered in India where it provoked an extreme surge in Covid-19 cases before spreading around the world.

But now a mutation of that variant has emerged, called “delta plus,” which is starting to worry global experts.

India has dubbed delta plus a “variant of concern,” and there are fears that it could potentially be more transmissible. In the U.K., Public Health England noted in its last summary that routine scanning of Covid cases in the country (where the delta variant is now responsible for the bulk of new infections) has found almost 40 cases of the newer variant, which has acquired the spike protein mutation K417N, i.e. delta plus.

It noted that, as of June 16, cases of the delta plus variant had also been identified in the U.S. (83 cases at the time the report was published last Friday) as well as Canada, India, Japan, Nepal, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland and Turkey.

India third wave?

As is common with all viruses, the coronavirus has mutated repeatedly since it emerged in China in late 2019. There have been a handful of variants that have emerged over the course of the pandemic that have changed the virus’s transmissibility, risk profile and even symptoms.

Read more: The fast-spreading delta Covid variant could have different symptoms, experts say

Several of those variants, such as the “alpha” strain (previously known as the “Kent” or “British” variant) and then the delta variant, have gone on to be dominant strains globally, hence the attention on delta plus.

India’s Health Ministry reportedly said Wednesday that it had found around 40 cases of the delta plus variant with the K417N mutation. The ministry released a statement on Tuesday in which it said that INSACOG, a consortium of 28 laboratories genome sequencing the virus in India during the pandemic, had informed it that the delta plus variant has three worrying characteristics.

These are, it said: increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells and the potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response (which could reduce the efficacy of a lifesaving monoclonal antibody therapy given to some hospitalized Covid patients).

India’s Health Ministry said it had alerted three states (Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh) after the delta plus variant was detected in genome-sequenced samples from those areas.

The detection of a variation to the delta variant largely blamed for India’s catastrophic second wave of cases has stoked fears that India is ill-prepared for a potential third wave. But some experts are urging calm.

Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya, a physician-epidemiologist and vaccines and health systems expert based in New Delhi, told CNBC on Thursday that while the government should remain alert to the progress of the variant, there is “no reason to panic.”

“Epidemiologically speaking, I have no reason to believe that ‘Delta plus’ alters the current situation in a manner to accelerate or trigger the third wave,” he told CNBC via email.

“If we go by the currently available evidence, Delta plus is not very different from Delta variant. It is the same Delta variant with one additional mutation. The only clinical difference, which we know till now, is that Delta plus has some resistance to monoclonal antibody combination therapy. And that is not a major difference as the therapy itself is investigational and few are eligible for this treatment.”

He advised the public to follow Covid restrictions and to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Analysis from Public Health England released last week showed that two doses of the PfizerBioNTech or Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines are highly effective against hospitalization from the delta variant.

The WHO has said it is tracking recent reports of a “delta plus” variant. “An additional mutation … has been identified,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead said at a briefing last week.

“In some of the delta variants we’ve seen one less mutation or one deletion instead of an additional, so we’re looking at all of it.”

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Booking volumes increase 45% over Q1

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The cruise ships “Carnival Sunrise” (L) and “Carnival Vista” (R) part of the Carnival Cruise Line, are seen moored at a quay in the port of Miami, Florida, on December 23, 2020, amid the Coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)

DANIEL SLIM | AFP | Getty Images

Carnival Corporation saw booking volumes increase 45% in the second quarter of this year compared to the first quarter, the cruise operator announced in a business update on Thursday

Carnival also said its cumulative advanced bookings for 2022 are ahead of its 2019 bookings, indicating the company expects a solid return to business after the pandemic shut down the cruise industry.

However, Carnival reported an adjusted net loss of $2 billion for the second-quarter of 2021. It expects a net loss on an adjusted basis for the third quarter and full year as well.

The company’s monthly cash burn rate for the first half of 2021 was $500 million.

Due to several outbreaks aboard cruise ships last year, the cruise industry was one of the last sectors allowed to resume operations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowed cruises to return this year with strict safety protocols and requirements in place to prevent outbreaks from occurring onboard.

Carnival has resumed sailing or announced plans to resume sailing 42 ships from eight of the company’s nine cruise brands by the end of November this year.

“We are working aggressively on our path to return our full fleet to operations by next spring. So far, we have announced that 42 ships, representing over half of our capacity, have been scheduled to return to serving guests by this fiscal year end,” Carnival Corporation President and CEO Arnold Donald said in a press release.

Cruise line stocks are slowly rebounding this year after suffering huge losses during the pandemic.

Shares of Carnival fell more than 2% on Thursday. Carnival’s stock has risen 28% this year, putting its market cap at just over $27 billion.

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Rudy Giuliani suspended from practicing law due to Trump statements

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A New York court on Thursday suspended Rudy Giuliani from practicing law in New York state due to making “false and misleading statements” about the election loss of former President Donald Trump, his client.

The suspension, which takes effect immediately, is a stunning blow to Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who previously served as a top Justice Department official and as the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan.

It also comes as Giuliani is under criminal investigation by that same federal prosecutor’s office in Manhattan in connection with his work in Ukraine.

Giuliani and Trump since last November have made false claims about the legitimacy of the election of President Joe Biden, claiming that Trump was swindled out of a victory only by widespread ballot fraud in key swing states.

Giuliani’s suspension, which was ordered a day short of his 52nd anniversary as a licensed lawyer in New York, was sought by the Attorney Grievance Committee for the First Judicial Department, which encompasses Manhattan. The suspension was granted by the Appellate Division for that same department of state Supreme Court.

The court, in its 33-page suspension order, noted that “interim suspension is a serious remedy, available only in situations where it is immediately necessary to protect the public from” an attorney’s violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

“We conclude that there is uncontroverted evidence that respondent communicated demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public at large in his capacity as lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump and the Trump campaign in connection with Trump’s failed effort at reelection in 2020,” the order said.

The court also said Giuliani’s “false statements were made to improperly bolster respondent’s narrative that due to widespread voter fraud, victory in the 2020 United States presidential election was stolen from his client.”

“We conclude that respondent’s conduct immediately threatens the public interest and warrants interim suspension from the practice of law, pending further proceedings before the Attorney Grievance Committee.”

One of the examples cited by the order was Giuliani’s repeated claim in an effort to discredit election results that “dead people ‘voted’ in Philadelphia.”

Giuliani at various times claimed that 8,021 dead people’s ballots were cast, “while also reporting the number as 30,000.”

“As the anecdotal poster child to prove this point, he repeatedly stated that famous heavyweight boxer Joe Frazier continued to vote years after he was dead and stated on November 7, 2020 ‘he is still voting here,’ ” the order noted.

In fact, the order added, “The public records submitted on this motion unequivocally show that respondent’s statement is false. Public records show that Pennsylvania formally cancelled Mr. Frazier’s eligibility to vote on February 8, 2012, three months after he died.”
Giuliani’s suspension is temporary, pending the outcome of a full formal disciplinary hearing.

Giuliani’s lawyers John Leventhal and Barry Kamins said in a statement, “We are disappointed with the Appellate Division, First Department’s decision suspending Mayor Giuliani prior to being afforded a hearing on the issues that are alleged.”

“This is unprecedented as we believe that our client does not pose a present danger to the public interest,” the statement said. “We believe that once the issues are fully explored at a hearing Mr. Giuliani will be reinstated as a valued member of the legal profession that he has served so well in his many capacities for so many years.”

New York state Sen. Brad Hoylman, (D-Manhattan, who had filed the formal complaint with the Attorney Grievance Committee, said, “I’m glad” about the suspension.

“The profession of law is a sacred and noble one,” Hoylman said in a statement. “And there can be no room in the profession for those who seek to undermine and undo the rule of law as Rudy Giuliani has so flagrantly done.”

This is breaking news. Check back for updates.

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