Fauci & Zhong: Comparing US and China Public Health Leaders

By Ryan Gandolfo, August 10, 2020

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As we’ve learned, health crises have a way of introducing the world to key figures tasked with the responsibility of ensuring public health. The COVID-19 pandemic is no different, with two of the world’s most reputable doctors becoming the faces of a global fight against COVID-19. 

In China, Dr. Zhong Nanshan became a household name for effectively managing the SARS outbreak in 2003 and, most recently, advising health authorities on COVID-19. The Nanjing-born 83-year-old pulmonologist is viewed as a reliable source of information, and his role as an advisor in China’s coronavirus outbreak in January was important in containment efforts and providing a beacon of hope for Chinese nationals at a seriously troubling time. 

Over in the US, Dr. Anthony Fauci is considered Dr. Zhong’s American counterpart. The 79-year-old New Yorker has been at the forefront of the US responses to various viral diseases like HIV/AIDS, the 2009 swine flu pandemic and Ebola, among others. Dr. Zhong and Dr. Fauci have spent a lifetime working to make the world a safer place. 

Image via Wikimedia

We see Dr. Zhong every morning on our commute to work as his erect posture is plastered on bus station billboards, meanwhile, Dr. Fauci has become a merchandise marvel with themed prayer candles, masks and even bobblehead dolls of the doctor sold online. It’s an interesting deviation from the sports and entertainment figures who typically take center stage, but given the severity of this pandemic, these doctors are as important as ever in guiding the public in its fight against the COVID-19 disease.

Back in January (we know, it feels like a lifetime ago), Dr. Zhong paid a visit to the central Chinese city of Wuhan to check on a cluster of mysterious pneumonia cases that ended up being named SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes the COVID-19 disease. On January 20, Dr. Zhong confirmed that the new coronavirus could be transmitted between humans. His words triggered a heightened response from the Chinese government and citizens of the PRC, which saw the lockdown of Wuhan – and really the country – as citizens around the country hunkered down for weeks to avoid the contagious disease. 

Dr. Zhong is known to have an authoritative, reassuring tone that has gained peoples’ trust. “Whenever he makes statements, provides advice, or gives opinions, he provides factual information to back up his claims. Every decision he makes is purely based on the health of people, while in person he comes across as very charismatic, frank, and direct,” Guangdong Radio and Television Presenter Hazza Harding tells That’s of his impression of Dr. Zhong. Having attended a press conference where Dr. Zhong spoke at length about coronavirus prevention measures, Harding understands what makes Dr. Zhong the beloved public figure he is.

Dr. Fauci entered the COVID-19 fray shortly after Dr. Zhong. At the end of January, he was named to the White House Coronavirus Task Force led by US Vice President Mike Pence – an obvious candidate given his resume. But it wasn’t until March that the new coronavirus really began to take hold in the US, at which point US President Donald Trump’s allies in the senate called for the president to make Dr. Fauci the face of the government’s coronavirus response. 

In a report by politics-focused publication The Hill, one unnamed US senator was quoted saying, “He speaks with authority. He has respect in the medical community,” in reference to Dr. Fauci. More recently, the doctor has been more vocal and transparent about the spread of the disease than anyone else on Trump’s task force. 

At the end of June, coronavirus cases in the US began to resurge and Dr. Fauci warned of 100,000 cases a day at a senate hearing. 

“Well I think the numbers speak for themselves… I’m very concerned and I’m not satisfied with what’s going on because we’re going in the wrong direction if you look at the curves of the new cases, so we really have got to do something about that and we need to do it quickly,” said Dr. Fauci on June 30 regarding the US COVID-19 response. 

Fauci’s dire warning had not come to pass, as the US hit a record of 77,300 confirmed cases in one day on July 16. However, the daily number of cases has dropped below 54,000, as of August 7.

While Dr. Zhong has received the support from both the government and the public, Dr. Fauci’s response to COVID-19 has caused a very visible rift among some officials in the Trump administration. But despite Trump officials and congress members’ attempts to lambast one of the leading members in the administration’s coronavirus task force team, Dr. Fauci is still viewed favorably by Americans. 

According to a Politico poll in mid-July, 62% of voters viewed Dr. Fauci’s handling of the virus as excellent or good. As for Dr. Zhong, China’s impressively low COVID-19 count only further cements him as a legend in China’s scientific community and the public at large. 

To follow COVID-19 updates, click here.

[Cover image by Ryan Gandolfo/That’s]

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