Fauci: It's obviously in China's interest to find out where the virus came from

Really?

I’d say that’s half-true. It’s in China’s interest to find out if in fact the virus evolved naturally, in the wild. Then they could present that evidence to the world. They’d be exculpated.

If they have reason to believe — or know — that the virus didn’t evolve in the wild, then, uh, it’s very much in their interest not to pursue the matter. Which, coincidentally, is how they’re handling it right now.

They let their lapdogs in the WHO sniff around as part of that group’s investigation into the virus’s origins and were rewarded with the lab-leak theory going almost wholly overlooked in the final WHO report. The section on the lab scenario was so shoddy that even the head of the WHO said afterward that they should go back and investigate further. At which point the Chinese government politely informed them that it was time to drop the matter.

So if Fauci’s right that it’s “obviously” in China’s interest to get to the bottom of this, it’s curious that the people responsible for advancing China’s interests don’t want to talk about it anymore. Watch, then read on.

Noah Rothman watched that clip and noted, correctly, that it seems awfully far afield for a public-health bureaucrat to be proposing diplomatic strategy, such as warning that Americans shouldn’t be too “accusatory” towards Beijing if they want cooperation.

On the other hand, at least Fauci supports an investigation. If you read this post last night, you know that some scientists seem leery of pursuing the lab-leak theory for reasons that are political, not scientific.

The most balanced take on his emails that I’ve read so far is from Michael Brendan Dougherty. Too much is redacted from Fauci’s correspondence to help us get to the bottom of the lab-leak theory but Dougherty does find some evolution over time in Fauci’s thinking on masks. Although not enough to justify the emphatic embrace of mask-wearing as an important mitigation measure by the federal bureaucracy over the past year:

On March 1, 2020, Fauci recommends the use of N95s while explaining that transmission is similar to influenza but more aerosol than droplets. The recommendation of N95s makes sense with his previous denigration of pharmacy-bought masks, and it follows on studies showing that some of the styles of mask popularly worn could actually increase the spread of droplets. By March 31, 2020, Fauci is buying into the less-effective masks based on “some data from NIG that indicate that mere speaking without coughing elicits aerosols that travel a foot or two.” Fauci concludes, “If that is the case, then perhaps universal wearing of masks is the most practical way to go.” I’m not sure that’s really true, as, at best, cloth masks slightly redirect the aerosols that transmit COVID-19.

However, Fauci would occasionally say things such as how he wanted masks to “be a symbol” for the type of thing you should do. That is, he seemed to betray his view of their medical utility by leaning heavily on their psychological utility. And I expect that the defense of store-bought cloth masks will retreat to this ground. Perhaps they’ll say that it’s true the virus easily gets through the mask, but the mask does some redirecting work, and that this slight utility combines with its use as a constant physical reminder of COVID mitigation behavior such as social distancing to slow the spread.

CNN asked him this morning about his February 5, 2020 email, which I wrote about yesterday and in which he claimed that store-bought masks do little to protect the wearer from infection. What changed, John Berman wondered? Watch below and you’ll find Fauci giving an answer similar to the one he gave to MSNBC last night, that as more data came out, he changed his mind. I want him to elaborate, though, since all we have to guide us in that evolution are the emails Dougherty cites. How did masks rise to the top of the prevention food chain in his mind?

I wonder if it’s as simple as the fact that, as scientists learned more about COVID transmission early on, it became clear that asymptomatic infection was more common than thought. Even in his February 5 email, where he claimed masks weren’t useful for the uninfected, he noted that “Masks are really for infected people to prevent them from spreading infection.” Once it was understood that people without symptoms were passing the virus along, having everyone mask up as a precaution to limit transmission became more defensible. Also, one theory for why some people develop severe cases of COVID while others have mild or no symptoms is that the first group inhaled a bigger viral load when they were infected. To the extent that masks worn by an infected person catch some of the aerosolized virus being expelled, they may limit the damage to uninfected people in the vicinity even if they don’t eliminate it entirely.