I haven’t had a day off in 20 months. There are people out there—particularly the nurses and physicians and respiratory therapists—who are doing the same thing, only in the trenches. So I’m not complaining. But it is thoroughly unusual to be working 15 hours a day at minimum, 20 months in a row.
Two years ago, [my job involved] meeting with my laboratory, making rounds, seeing patients, going to conferences, traveling to give lectures, meeting with scientists, writing papers, occasionally being in the media, always having time for a 4-mile run in the middle of the day, and going out occasionally to dinner with my wife. It was a life that was intense, busy, productive, diversified. Today, it’s almost unidimensional. Sunday is no different from Thursday.
Because of the threats on my life and the harassment, I have special agents who are always with me, which is ridiculous. They drive me 5 miles, from my home to my office. I have a once-a-week [Zoom meeting] with the president’s cabinet. And once a week we meet with the governors to answer their questions. Jeff Zients, coordinator of the COVID response—I’m on the phone with him maybe two or three times a day. I do about four or five press things a day, and Instagrams and TikToks and things, always trying to get the message out. Oh, and I meet with the president once a week in person.
If you’ve accomplished what you need in the first eight minutes of a meeting, it’s on to the next thing. People love that because they know that I focus like a laser when I’m with them. My motto has always been “Precision of thought and economy of expression.” Know what you’re talking about, know what your problem is, know what your question is.
The only way to counter misinformation and disinformation is to provide correct information, but the volume of misinformation that’s out there is stunning. So you have to be aware of and respond to the radical nutcases who are constantly assailing you. It’s draining. They have a field day with me, because the easiest way to confuse the public is to try and discredit the people who are telling the truth.
During the week, I might get home and go for a late-night walk with my wife, quickly eat—it takes me about 12 minutes to eat. In the beginning [of the pandemic], I would forget to eat or drink. When your adrenaline is up so much, you don’t get hungry. [Then my wife], she’s a very reasonable person, she said, “You’ve got to eat. It’s not going to be over in a couple of weeks.” And I listened to her.
Time he wakes up
First thing he does in the morning
“Shave, shower, and go to my email, because overnight emails will be coming in from other countries. I average about a couple thousand emails a day.”
How his routine has changed over the past 18 months
“I don’t travel whatsoever anymore. I’ve been on two trips, both with the First Lady, to promote vaccination. That would be unimaginable for me two years ago. In a 20-month period, I would have done maybe six international trips and 10 or 15 to San Francisco, Seattle, L.A., Miami, Boston, New York.”
What he does with 15 minutes of free time
“This sounds schmaltzy, but just spend downtime with my wife. Go for a walk, sit [on the back deck] and have a beer. I used to like to go to restaurants. I haven’t been to one in 20 months.”
How he keeps his team from feeling burned out
“Since the volume [of work] has increased so much, I brought in people who are in other divisions that are not working as hard because the focus is so much on COVID. I really care about my senior staff, because they’re the ones that have to go back and develop vaccines. I don’t think people fully appreciate that the fundamental research for the [COVID] vaccines came out of my group here. I don’t want to wear out those people.”
Last thing he does at night
“Meetings end sometimes at 8, 9, 10 o’clock at night. Then you keep doing [emails] until you can’t do them anymore.”
Time he goes to bed
Between 10 and 11 p.m.
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