Anthony Fauci’s retirement from the National Institutes of Health in December might be seen as a marker in the COVID-19 pandemic, which began its sweep around the world three years ago this month. As the public face of the government’s response to the crisis, he was a competent presence amid the bunglers of the Trump administration. He was straightforward in dealing with the uncertainties of the pandemic, responding to new information with revised guidance even if it meant reversing himself on previous statements. His insistence on working with the facts and following the science was sometimes mistaken for, and often misrepresented as, arrogance or sanctimony. He was criticized and vilified, in public testimony and in conservative media, by characters like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who thought his training as an ophthalmologist made him more qualified to pronounce on public health than a key adviser on infectious diseases to every president since Ronald Reagan. Fauci and his family have received death threats, while prominent social-media figures and right-wing politicians continue to target him with violent rhetoric. Now in charge of the House of Representatives, Republicans are promising to investigate Fauci and his handling of the pandemic, with some calling for his “indictment.” Fauci, for his part, says he looks forward to testifying.
No one person deserves credit for whatever has gone right in the past three years, nor should any individual be blamed for all that went wrong. It was acknowledged even before a new coronavirus strain was detected in Wuhan, China, that the United States was unprepared for a pandemic. About 1.1 million Americans have now died from Covid—more than all the combat deaths of every war the country has ever fought in. As 2022 came to a close, the United States saw yet another spike in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Uptake of the latest vaccine remains stubbornly low as efforts to persuade people to get boosted are undermined by politicized misinformation. Meanwhile, sub-variants of the virus continue to appear, new data is confirming the prevalence and severity of long-Covid symptoms, and nearly half of all U.S. adults report suffering severe pandemic-related psychological stress. The economic impact has been significant, not least on the labor market: Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said in December that close to half a million people who would have been working have died of Covid, and that excess retirements during the pandemic removed more than 2 million people from the workforce.