He threw out the first pitch of the baseball season yesterday — not very well, alas — and then stuck around in the nearly empty stadium to take in the Nats/Yankees game.

Nearly empty, as I say. But not quite fully empty.

What happened here?

https://twitter.com/yashar/status/1286666490637193217

I’m almost positive that the woman on his left is his wife. There’s no problem ignoring social distancing rules in that case; they live in the same household so they’re in a quarantine “bubble” together anyway. But who’s the guy on his right? Does he live with the Faucis too?

If not, why aren’t they a good 10 feet away from him? Or 50 feet, since space was no issue yesterday?

At first I thought maybe the photographer had snapped this pic while he was eating, which wouldn’t be an excuse for not social distancing but would raise the possibility that he only had his mask off for a second. But no, you can see him casually watching the game with the mask down in the second photo here too.

Two possibilities. One is that he egregiously flouted good pandemic practices even though he knew photographers were around and even though, at age 79, he’s at dire risk of a bad outcome if he contracts the virus. The other is that the guy on his right doesn’t live with the Faucis but may be part of some extended multi-household quarantine “bubble.” Families across the country have been doing that to extend their social circles a bit, and may be doing it more frequently lately in creating “learning pods” for out-of-school children. My guess is that Fauci’s top advisors at the NIAID have had some sort of extended quarantine “bubble” in place for awhile in order to make it easier for them to work together. Without the bubble they’d have to wear masks around each other at the office, stay six feet apart, yadda yadda. With the bubble in place, they can treat each other as though they’re part of the same household.

And they’re presumably diligent about not straying beyond that bubble outside of work. If you can’t trust the country’s elderly infectious disease specialists to be sticklers for social distancing, there’s no hope for any of us.

The dude on the right probably works at NIAID too and has been in the bubble with Fauci for awhile now. We’ll know more about that soon, I’m sure. But even so — you would think Fauci would be mindful of appearances, knowing the risk that Americans will see these images and feel angry and confused. Some may conclude that he’s a hypocrite about mask-wearing in unsafe situations. Others may decide that this must mean the virus isn’t so dangerous after all. He’s gotten lots of hype from the press for how media savvy he’s been in preaching the gospel on pandemic safety, but that’s glaringly not true in this case. There’ll be fewer Americans willing to take his advice after this episode, fairly or not.

Here’s his first pitch at last night’s game, followed by Stephen “redsteeze” Miller’s meme-ification. If he won’t set a very strict example on how to behave during the age of COVID when he makes public appearances, he shouldn’t make them.

Update: I didn’t see the segment but a Bloomberg reporter caught his appearance this morning on Fox News, where he was asked about this.

The fact that he had the mask off for a spell is a secondary issue. The primary issue is whether the man next to him was part of the same quarantine bubble or not. Whether he’s a friend, work colleague, whatever is of no consequence. If he didn’t have reason to believe the guy was uninfected then he took an irresponsible risk.

Anti-maskers, Fauci-haters, and floomers are going absolutely ballistic over the photos on Twitter as I write this. I don’t think he realizes what a big deal this is.

Update: I’m sure Trump and the Scavinos around him are dying to promote the photos as a knock on Fauci but doing so would be self-defeating, as it would encourage the idea that mask-wearing isn’t important. Trump just made a very belated pivot within the last week or so by encouraging people to wear masks. He’ll undermine his own pandemic-control effort if he succumbs to the temptation to dunk on Fauci by posting the images. Although, again, the ultimate fault lies with Fauci himself for not realizing how his behavior would be perceived.