Not Real News

On Friday, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly claiming people should stop wearing masks because leaked emails written by Dr. Anthony Fauci said masks aren’t effective against COVID-19.

THE FACTS: A trove of emails from Fauci, longtime director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was released to The Washington Post and Buzzfeed News through Freedom of Information Act requests.

The emails were not leaked. Social media users have misrepresented the emails to make it appear Fauci lied to the public. Several of the claims were contained in a TikTok video that was shared on Facebook this week.

“How you see Dr. Fauci’s leaked emails about how masks don’t work and still wear masks? Brainwashed,” states a man in the TikTok video. “The typical mask you buy in a drugstore is not really effective. Guys, that’s from Fauci, that’s not me. That’s from the man who got y’all wearing masks.”

The video is accompanied by a screenshot of an email that Fauci wrote on Feb. 5, 2020, before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, that was later published by Buzzfeed News: “Masks are really for infected people to prevent them from spreading infection to people who are not infected rather than protecting uninfected people from acquiring infection. The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through the material,” reads the email.

Fauci had sent the note to Sylvia Burwell, president of American University and a former secretary of health and human services, after she asked him whether she should take a mask to the airport. But that was written in early February 2020 when there were few reported cases in the U.S.

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Early in the pandemic, Fauci had publicly downplayed mask wearing for the general public, stating in March 2020 masks should be spared for healthcare workers. As new information emerged on how the virus spreads, officials shifted their messaging, urging everyone to wear a mask, even if they weren’t sick with COVID-19.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on April 3, 2020, to recommend that people wear masks, Fauci also promoted that message. During a PBS Newshour interview that day, Fauci encouraged masks, saying new information showed infected people without symptoms can still transmit the virus.

In a CNN interview on May 21, 2020, Fauci stated: “Wear a mask.”

The video also makes the false claims that Fauci admitted he took the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine because it is effective against COVID-19, and that therefore those who had promoted it as a cure were correct. The drug has not been approved as a treatment for COVID-19. To back up the false hydroxychloroquine claim about Fauci, the video shows a screenshot of an email stating: “The other drug I have, and have told my family and some friends to get, is called hyroxychloriquine — also seem to be effective and safe.”

But Fauci didn’t write that email, in which the drug was misspelled. He received the email from Erik A. Nilsen, CEO of Bio-Signal Technologies, a startup based in Texas, on March 18, 2020, according to the emails published by Buzzfeed News. Other emails written by Fauci during that time period show that he was not willing to endorse hydroxychloroquine because data did not support its use and he has continued to state that science doesn’t back using hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19. “Dr. Fauci has never taken hydroxychloroquine,” an NIAID spokesperson confirmed to The Associated Press in an email.