POLITICS
07/31/2020 16:09 EDT

GOP Rep. Asked If Protests Should Be Curbed Due To COVID-19. Fauci Didn't Take The Bait.

Rep. Jim Jordan kept badgering him, but the infectious diseases expert stuck to general warnings about crowds.

During a congressional hearing Friday on the COVID-19 crisis, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) repeatedly tried to score political points by pushing Dr. Anthony Fauci to say that nationwide protests against racism and police brutality should be limited because of the pandemic. But the infectious diseases expert refused to participate in Jordan’s grandstanding, waving off that line of questioning.

“Do protests increase the spread of the virus?” Jordan asked Fauci.

“I think I can make a general statement ...,” Fauci began.

Jordan cut him off with a comment about the number of protesters across the country while still badgering him to answer.

“Crowding together, particularly when you’re not wearing a mask, contributes to the spread of the virus,” Fauci continued.

“Should we limit the protesting?” Jordan asked. “Should government limit the protesting?”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” Fauci said. “I’m not in a position to determine what the government can do in a forceful way.”

In a series of rapid comments, Jordan made an apples-to-oranges comparison between the protests and religious services. The latter are generally held in enclosed spaces indoors, which public health experts have warned are where the virus can spread more easily.

The congressman claimed that “five liberals on the Supreme Court said it’s OK for Nevada to limit church services” — referring to a recent high court decision in which Chief Justice John Roberts joined the four liberal justices in denying a Nevada church’s challenge to a state order limiting religious services to 50 people.

“I don’t know how many times I can answer that,” an exasperated Fauci said, repeatedly stressing that in general, he advises against large crowds, particularly those in which participants are not wearing masks. “I am not going to opine on limiting anything. I’m telling you what is the danger, and you can make your own conclusion about that.” 

After Jordan pressed on, Fauci shook his head and waved off the congressman.

When Jordan’s time was up, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), chairing the hearing, noted that President Donald Trump on Wednesday held a campaign fundraiser and visited an oil rig in Texas — with “nobody wearing a mask, nobody social distancing.”

An hour later, during a second round of questions, Jordan again tried to goad Fauci into saying the protests have increased the spread of the virus. Once again, Fauci refused to take the bait.

“As I said before, I am concerned about any crowds, particularly people who don’t wear masks,” the doctor said. “I’m concerned more about indoor crowds than I am of outdoor crowds. But crowds without masks are a problem.”

More than two months since they began, there is no concrete evidence to conclude that the protests have increased the spread of the virus. The vast majority of protesters have worn masks. New York City, once the epicenter of COVID-19 this spring, had some of the biggest demonstrations in June. But the city has largely contained the spread of the virus, and infection rates have continued to remain low there.

Rising numbers of cases have been occurring in states and municipalities that reopened aggressively, which Fauci noted during Friday’s hearing. Through contact tracing, officials have determined that many of the new outbreaks are tied to restaurants, bars and parties, where people are likely to remove their masks for long periods of time.