WASHINGTON (AP) — Dr. Anthony Fauci is back.
In truth, the nation's leading infectious-diseases expert never really went away. However, after enduring nearly a year of undermining comments from former President Donald Trump, Fauci now speaks with the authority of the White House again.
He called it "liberating" Thursday to be backed by an administration that has embraced his recommendations to battle COVID-19.
"One of the new things in this administration is, if you don't know the answer, don't guess," Fauci said in one observation during a White House briefing. "Just say you don't know the answer.
"The idea that you can get up here and talk about what you know and what the science is it is something of a liberating feeling," Fauci told reporters. White House press secretary Jen Psaki invited Fauci to take the podium first at her daily briefing.
Fauci's highly visible schedule Thursday, the first full day of President Joe Biden's term, underscored the new administration's confidence in the doctor but also the urgency of the moment.
His day began with a 4 a.m. virtual meeting with officials of the World Health Organization, which is based in Switzerland, and stretched past a 4 p.m. appearance at the lectern in the White House briefing room.
The breakneck pace showcased the urgent need to combat a pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans and reached its deadliest phase just as the new president comes to office.
Biden, during his presidential campaign, pledged to make Fauci his chief medical adviser when he took office, and the 80-year-old scientist was immediately in motion.
Fauci told WHO during the virtual meeting that the United States would join its effort to deliver coronavirus vaccines to poor countries.
In the afternoon, the doctor stood alongside Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in the White House as they unveiled a series of executive orders aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, which is killing more than 4,000 Americans a day, as well as bolstering the nation's sluggish vaccine distribution program.
Trump's dismissiveness of the science — handicapped medical professionals trying to get Americans to take the virus seriously.
"There was clear political influence on the message of the pandemic. It became political to say that the pandemic was devastating our community because it was interpreted as a judgement on Trump," said Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, an infectious-diseases physician and a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine. "It actively created enemies of the public health folks in a segment of the population."
Having Fauci return to a central role, Bhadelia said, is a sign "science was being repressed and now back."
Fauci has now served under seven presidents.