2020 Election
Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks as US President Donald Trump listens during the daily press briefing on the Coronavirus pandemic situation at the White House on March 17, 2020 in Washington, DC.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP—Getty Images
June 17, 2020 1:50 PM EDT

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and a top U.S. infectious disease expert, said he would not attend rallies for President Donald Trump—events where large crowds are expected as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

“No,” Fauci told The Daily Beast in a recent interview when asked if he would be appearing at Trump’s upcoming rallies in Tulsa, Okla. and Phoenix, Ariz. “I’m in a high risk category. Personally, I would not. Of course not.” Older adults and those who have certain underlying health conditions, such as diabetes or chronic lung disease, are at a higher risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19 than others.

Fauci’s comments come as state and city officials grapple with continued questions surrounding their reopening procedures amid the spread of coronavirus. While COVID-19 infection rates have somewhat slowed down nationwide in recent months following a peak in April, some regions have seen spikes in cases, including in Oklahoma and Arizona, areas where Trump has planned to hold rallies.

Arizona, along with Texas and Florida, reported its largest one-day increase in coronavirus cases on Tuesday, with a spike of 2,392 in one day and a total of 39,097 cases. Will Humble, executive director of the state’s Public Health Association, said in a news conference on Monday that Arizona’s hospitals could see a surge in patients, leading to stretched resources and lower quality care.

While restrictions put into place to prevent people from coming into close contact with each other are easing throughout the country, Fauci said earlier in June that gathering in large groups is still “risky.” In a radio interview with NPR’s 1A on Tuesday, Fauci said cases in some states were likely rising because people are “not really adhering to the structured type of guidelines that belong to the phase that they’re in.”

A second wave of the coronavirus was “not inevitable,” he said as long as people “do what we need to do to prevent it from happening.”

Fauci spoke just days before Trump is expected to greet a large crowd in Tulsa in an indoor arena that can fit about 20,000 people during a Saturday rally. Health officials in the city have warned that the rally could make the spread of coronavirus worse. Those who want to attend the rally in Tulsa are required to agree that they will not sue the Trump Campaign if they contract the virus at the event; during a press briefing on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said those in attendance would be provided with masks, but not required to wear them.

During an interview Wednesday morning, Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford said he did not believe people “with underlying health conditions” should attend the rally.

Fauci told NPR he hasn’t spoken with Trump in about two weeks and added, in reference to a question about the nationwide protests against racism and police brutality, that people should still continue to avoid crowds and wear masks.

“That clearly has a positive effect, so when you pull away from that and you still have viral dynamics in your community, that’s not a good idea,” he said. “So rather than blame one or the other, just listen to what I’m saying: It’s risky when you do that, so please avoid doing that.”

Write to Mahita Gajanan at mahita.gajanan@time.com.

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