People could find different takeaways within Fauci’s pronouncements. He told the USA Today editorial board on Feb. 17 that the CDC would be testing people for the coronavirus in five major cities when they showed up at clinics with flu-like symptoms.

If that testing showed the virus had slipped into the country in places federal officials didn’t know about, “we’ve got a problem,” Fauci said. Still, the headline put the spotlight on his remark that the danger posed by the virus was slight. It read: “Top disease official: Risk of coronavirus in USA is ‘minuscule.’”

Larry Gostin, a professor at Georgetown University who has advised Republican and Democratic administrations on public health issues, said there should be no confusing honest mistakes and expressions of uncertainty from public health officials with Trump’s effort to minimize the threat of COVID-19.

“It is irrefutable that he has played down the epidemic and sidelined trusted scientists, and in some cases, muzzled them,” Gostin said.