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Dr. Anthony Fauci responds to President Donald Trump: COVID-19 'deaths are real'

Dr. Anthony Fauci also expressed optimism on Sunday

Dr. Anthony Fauci also expressed optimism on Sunday about the pace of vaccinations improving in the immediate future. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Saul Loeb

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease specialist, said COVID-19 "deaths are real" on Sunday, pushing back against President Donald Trump's baseless claim that the U.S. pandemic death toll was "exaggerated."

"The deaths are real deaths. I mean, all you need to do is to go out into the trenches, go to the hospitals, see what the health care workers are dealing with," Fauci said on ABC's "This Week." "They are under very stressed situations in many areas of the country, the hospital beds are stretched. People are running out of beds, running out of trained personnel who are exhausted right now. That's real. That's not fake. That's real."

Early Sunday, Trump tweeted: "The number of cases and deaths of the China Virus is far exaggerated in the United States because of @CDCgov’s ridiculous method of determination compared to other countries, many of whom report, purposely, very inaccurately and low. 'When in doubt, call it Covid.' Fake News!"

Fauci, noting that the coronavirus death toll nationwide had reached 350,000, also addressed the rise in hospitalizations due to COVID-19.

"To have 300,000 cases in a given day and between 2,000 and 3,000 deaths per day is just terrible," Fauci said. "There is no running away from the numbers. It's something that we absolutely have got to grasp and get our arms around and turn that, turn that inflection down by very intensive adherence to the public health measures uniformly throughout the country with no exceptions."

Federal officials on Sunday defended the vaccine's rollout, which has been criticized as too slow.

Fauci and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams noted that 1.5 million Americans were vaccinated over the past 72 hours, a sign that the rollout is accelerating.

"But the good news is that we're seeing it quickly ramp up, thanks to our state partners. In the last 72 hours, we saw 1.5 million first shots reported," Adams said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"That's meaningful change," Adams said, noting that the federal government has been working with state partners "to make sure we improve upon this process. I don't want anyone to think I'm being Pollyannish here. There's what we delivered, and we hope that those will be translated into vaccinations. That has not occurred to the way that we would like."

Fauci, speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," said the nation was "not where we want to be. We've got to do much better. But … let's give it about a week or two into January to see if we can pick up momentum that was slowed down by the holiday season. So again, no excuses. We're not where we want to be. But hopefully, we'll pick up some momentum and get back to where we want to be with regard to getting it into people's arms."

Moncef Slaoui, who heads the vaccine effort as Operation Warp Speed chief adviser, said Sunday the administration needed to "improve" on the vaccination effort.

"We need to improve on that," he said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

"We are optimistic as we go beyond this holiday season that the numbers will go up," Slaoui said, "and we are standing ready to do what we are asked."