White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci on Thursday vehemently refuted an erroneous assertion by Sen. Rand Paul that continuing to wear face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is "just theater."
The heated exchange between Fauci and Paul (R-Ky.) occurred during a Senate hearing examining the nation's response to Covid-19 a year into the pandemic.
Arguing that there is "virtually 0% chance" of vaccinated people contracting the virus that's killed more than 538,000 Americans, Paul said that people who wear two masks as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "parade around... for show."
"You're telling everyone to wear a mask," Paul said. "If we're not spreading the infection, isn't it just theater? You have the vaccine and you're wearing two masks, isn't that theater?"
Sen. @RandPaul: "If we're not spreading the infection, isn't it just theater? You have the vaccine and you're wearing two masks, isn't that theater?
Dr. Anthony Fauci: "Here we go again with the theater. Let's get down to the facts."
— CSPAN (@cspan) March 18, 2021
"Here we go again with the theater," replied a visibly piqued Fauci. "Let's get down to the facts."
"Let me just state for the record that masks are not theater," he said. "I totally disagree with you."
Fauci then explained that studies suggest authorized vaccines don't necessarily offer protection from some newer and more contagious strains of the virus, including the one from South Africa, and that such mutations are a "good reason for a mask."
"In the South African study conducted by [Johnson & Johnson], they found that people who were infected with wild type"—the original SARS CoV-2 strain—"and were exposed to the variant in South Africa, the 351, it was as if they had never been infected before," said Fauci. "They had no protection."
This wasn't the first time that Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases expert, and Paul, an ophthalmologist, have clashed over the coronavirus. At a Senate hearing last September, an exasperated Fauci scolded the libertarian senator for repeatedly propagating misinformation about herd immunity.