WASHINGTON – Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, seemed to be at odds with President Donald Trump on Friday regarding the current state of the coronavirus pandemic as well as the president publicly downplaying it.

Appearing on MSNBC, Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, answered a question regarding journalist Bob Woodward’s bombshell reporting of Trump acknowledging that he was publicly downplaying the coronavirus while privately admitting its severity.

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The president has said he intentionally minimized the danger of COVID-19 to not “create panic.”

“There were times I was out there telling the American public how difficult this is, how we’re having a really serious problem, you know, and the president was saying it’s something that’s going to disappear, which obviously is not the case. So, there was and is some disagreements in what we say and what comes out in the White House,” Fauci said. 

“When you downplay something that is really a threat, that is not a good thing,” he continued.

Trump told Woodward in a recorded interview on Feb. 7 about how much “more deadly” COVID-19 would be than the flu, a startling juxtaposition from the president’s public remarks at the time and in the months since about COVID-19, its lethality and its spread. 

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For months in public, the president assured the public that the coronavirus was “under control” in the U.S. and would “go away.” 

Despite raising concerns with Woodward about coronavirus being transmitted through the air in early February, the president held six rallies indoors between Feb. 7 and March 2.

He stated at one of those rallies that COVID-19 would be gone by April because “in theory” once the weather warmed up, the coronavirus would “miraculously” go away. 

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The pandemic has caused more than 6.3 million confirmed cases and more than 191,000 deaths in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University data.

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Trump has continued to push for seemingly unrealistic timelines for returning to normalcy. In interviews Friday, Fauci disagreed with the president’s claim the U.S. is “rounding the corner.”

“If you’re talking about getting back to a degree of normality which resembles where we were prior to COVID, it’s going to be well into 2021, maybe even towards the end of 2021,” Fauci said.

“I believe that we will have a vaccine that will be available by the end of this year, the beginning of next year, but by the time you mobilize the distribution of the vaccinations and you get the majority or more of the population vaccinated and protected, that’s likely not going to happen till the mid – or end – of 2021.”

Dr. Fauci discusses distributing the coronavirus vaccine to the public and returning to “normality”:

“If you’re talking about getting back to a degree of normality, which resembles where we were prior to COVID, it’s gonna be well into 2021. Maybe even towards the end of 2021.” pic.twitter.com/FHhdWhSsFb

— MSNBC (@MSNBC) September 11, 2020

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Trump has suggested that a vaccine may come before the Nov. 3 presidential election, calling it a “very special date.”

On Thursday, Fauci reiterated that the pandemic will not be going away soon.

“I just think we need to hunker down and get through this fall and winter, because it’s not going to be easy. We know every time we restrict, we lift restrictions, we get a blip. I mean … it’s whack-a-mole,” he said.

“We’ve been through this before. Don’t ever, ever underestimate the potential of the pandemic. And don’t try and look at the rosy side of things.”

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On Friday, Fauci also noted attendees at Trump rallies, where masks are not required and often not worn, may not be safe just because the events are held outside.

“Just because you’re outdoors does not mean that you’re protected, particularly if you’re in a crowd and you’re not wearing masks,” he said.

President Donald Trump addresses supporters during a campaign rally at MBS International Airport in Freeland, Michigan on September 10, 2020.

Contributing: Jeanine Santucci

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fauci: Trump downplaying COVID-19 threat ‘not a good thing’

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