The Arizona Republican says he wants to reopen businesses across the country now, despite there still being a lack of widespread COVID-19 testing and an increase in cases each day.
U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona told KNST in Tucson on Monday that he believes Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, should resign amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think [Fauci] gave us a good start. I think it’s time for him to basically step down,” Biggs, the head of the House Freedom Caucus, said on The Morning Ritual with Garret Lewis. The congressman also said he “wouldn’t mind seeing Deborah Birx [coronavirus response coordinator for the Trump administration’s White House Coronavirus Task Force] go as well,” but didn’t elaborate on reasons why.
Biggs accused Fauci, who has been appearing with Birx and President Donald Trump at press conferences to relay coronavirus information to the public, of saying in a conference call last week that he had not “taken into account societal, economic, or social costs or impact” for any of his policies.
“[Fauci’s] taken basically a generic, countrywide approach, as opposed to saying, look, we know where the most vulnerable are; we need to make sure the most vulnerable receive the care that they need, and those who are treating them need to be tested often so we can make sure there’s nothing filtering into that population,” Biggs said.
However, testing has been very difficult to obtain. Many states are experiencing shortages of tests and personal protective medical equipment used by professionals when administering tests. Even when people are tested, it can take days or even weeks to receive results. And experts say social distancing guidelines shouldn’t be relaxed until widespread testing is in place.
But Biggs’ primary concern is the economy and the huge spikes in unemployment caused by governors ordering non-essential businesses to indefinitely close. The congressman said he believes all businesses should be reopened with certain precautions.
“[Grocery stores] all have distance markings; they measure how many folks they’re letting into their retail stores by space. Just do that and open up every business,” Biggs said. “And just say look, we’re Americans and we’ve got choice. There’s risk with freedom; we get it. But if we follow the guidelines that seem to … have worked to some measure anyway in stopping some of the community spread, let’s do it. Let’s open [the economy] up and see what happens.”
But social distancing guidelines like these have been difficult to enforce. Despite governments urging people to stay inside, many have flocked to outdoor areas in large groups. And some businesses are finding it difficult to police their customers.
Biggs said he’s been “surprised” that people haven’t pushed back more on social distancing guidelines and business closures for restricting their “freedom.”
“We want to respect people’s health; we’re careful about that,” he said. “But you don’t see us shutting down the economy every year when people get the influenza.”
Experts have pointed out this is a dangerous comparison to make, however, in part because the strain of coronavirus causing the pandemic is new. There is no vaccine for it as there is for the flu. Preliminary data has also shown the coronavirus to be more contagious and deadlier than influenza, and causing more and longer hospital stays.
In addition, Biggs said Fauci should step down because of his pushback on the president’s claims that malaria drug hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment for COVID-19.
“For him to try to limit the use of that when it seems to have some positive effect, in my opinion, that’s irresponsible,” Biggs said.
The drug has shown some promise for treating COVID-19 in small studies, which Fauci has downplayed as “anecdotal,” but it has also caused potential dangerous side effects in some patients. A small study of the similar substance chloroquine on COVID-19 patients in Brazil was recently stopped because some patients developed irregular heartbeats. France recently reported 43 “heart incidents” related to COVID-19 patients taking the medication.
There have also been problems with people self-medicating with the drug. A man in Arizona died after he and his wife took a version of the substance used for fish. Three people also died in Nigeria after overdosing on the medication.
Biggs’ call for Fauci and Birx’s removal came after the president expressed disdain over Fauci’s actions. Over the weekend, he retweeted a post saying it’s “time to #FireFauci.”
However, the White House said Monday there are no plans to fire the doctor.
“This media chatter is ridiculous – President Trump is not firing Dr. Fauci,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement.
Biggs isn’t the first Arizona politician to call for a major leader in coronavirus response to step down because of Trump’s displeasure.
Last week, Sen. Martha McSally, called for World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to resign. In an interview with Fox Business, she accused him of helping China “cover up its mishandling of the coronavirus crisis for months” – a talking point now used to deflect criticism over the Trump administration’s early response to the pandemic.