WASHINGTON - Dr. Anthony Fauci is celebrating his 80th birthday on Christmas Eve at home, something he has continued to advise millions of Americans to do as the country faces the ongoing coronavirus pandemic this holiday season.
The longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force has been a leading voice for adherence to social-distancing measures and limiting holiday gatherings to slow the spread of the virus.
Fauci told the Washington Post that he normally celebrates his birthday and Christmas Eve with an Italian dinner at the home of his sister in Alexandria, Virginia. The Fauci family also has a holiday tradition of making timpano, an Italian pasta cake.
This year, Fauci will stay home in Washington, D.C. with his wife of 35 years, Christine Grady — who is also the chief of the bioethics department at NIH Clinical Center. He opted to make the timpano dish while his three adult daughters, who are scattered across the country, watched remotely.
"It turned out perfectly," Fauci told the Post. "The pressure was really on. If I had messed it up and it had fallen apart out of the pot it would have been very embarrassing."
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, gestures after receiving his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 22, 2020, in Bethesda, Maryland. (Photo by PATRICK SEMANSKY/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Fauci, whose father lived to be 97, told the newspaper that he’s worked every day since January, focused on fighting the coronavirus pandemic. He added that his days as a young doctor working night shifts at a big New York City hospital have helped him deal with the demands of his job years later.
"There is no option to get tired. There is no option to sit down and say ‘I’m sorry, I’ve had enough,’" he told the newspaper.
The Fauci family will celebrate Christmas virtually on Zoom, following the public health recommendations to limit travel and gatherings as the country reports more than 18 million COVID-19 cases and 326,000 deaths.
His milestone birthday comes just days after Fauci and other top officials publicly received their first dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine. Fauci said he wanted being vaccinated to serve as "a symbol to the rest of the country that I feel extreme confidence in the safety and efficacy of this vaccine.
This week, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser proclaimed Thursday as "Dr. Anthony S. Fauci Day" in the nation's capital in honor of the country’s top infectious disease expert's birthday.
In his interview with the Post, Fauci also discussed becoming a well-known public figure in 2020. His continuous warnings to stay vigilant amid the pandemic, wear a mask, wash hands and social distance during every interview throughout the year has drawn him both praise and criticism — even death threats.
Some criticism has come from President Donald Trump, who called him "a disaster" in October. Fauci has said he’s received death threats and his daughters have been harassed as a result of his high-profile statements about the pandemic, the vaccines, and what science has revealed and not yet revealed about the novel coronavirus.
"On the one hand, I’m being adulated as this, you know, iconic figure, this person that everyone recognizes now, and knows. Which is fine. I can’t be distracted by that," Fauci told the Post. "On the other hand, people have threatened my life and have harassed my wife and children and are still doing that. Public health measures have been swept up into the divisiveness of our society."
Since 1984, Fauci has served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a medical research organization that is part of the larger National Institutes of Health (NIH). He has a long career of fighting infectious disease outbreaks, including HIV/AIDS, H1N1 influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), West Nile, Ebola and Zika viruses.
A program for an award he won in 1989 details some of Fauci’s earlier life and career experiences. The Brooklyn-born Fauci worked as a construction laborer for four summers prior to medical school, and said the experience helped him to understand what a "lot of people need to do to make a living." While at Cornell Medical School in the mid-1960s, he became quickly "fascinated with immunology," which was in its very early stages of development at the time.
Fauci joined the NIH after medical school, earning a reputation as a skilled researcher with a strong bedside manner. His work in the 1980s to help treat those suffering from the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic thrust the doctor into the limelight.
He has advised six presidents on public health matters and will serve as chief medical adviser under the incoming Biden administration.
This story was reported from Cincinnati.