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How Dr. Fauci stays motivated while fighting Covid: ‘Suck it up and keep going, no matter how frustrating it gets’

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, has been on a mission since March to end the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite working 18-hour days, Fauci, who turns 80 this month, said he never plans on stopping. “It would be unconscionable to walk away from this,” Fauci said during a Q&A panel with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Wednesday.

As a public health official and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, Fauci said it’s his responsibility to be present and active in the fight to end the pandemic.

But “the enormity of the problem, it just can actually overwhelm you,” Fauci told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta during the panel Wednesday.  

Fauci’s mindset in tough moments is to “suck it up and keep going, no matter how frustrating it gets,” he said.

“It’s not about me and how I feel,” Fauci said. “It’s about what the what the problem is, and the problem is enormous.”

The U.S. is headed into what could be the bleakest month yet in January, when cases are projected to peak. The country recorded the deadliest day of the pandemic so far on Wednesday, with 3,124 new Covid deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. There were more than 221,000 new Covid-19 infections in the U.S. on Wednesday as well.

Large numbers and statistics like these can be “numbing,” and most people have a hard time comprehending the scale of the crisis, Fauci said.

Fauci has been seeing and treating patients on a daily basis at the National Institute of Health’s Clinical Center. Seeing “a real patient in the room” and the various ways the virus affects people’s health functions makes reality sink in, he said.   

The general public who’s not interacting with patients need to “understand that you’re dealing with real suffering, and real disease and real loss in the form of death of loved ones,” Fauci said. “We can’t walk away from that problem.”

Fauci has seen firsthand how the disease can devastate loved ones. Someone close to Fauci’s family who was young and healthy died of complications related to Covid, he said.

The “mystery” of the illness “haunts me,” Fauci said.

“I’m someone who studied the pathogenesis of viral diseases for my entire multi-decade career,” he said. The idea that there could be a virus that is “almost harmless” in some people, causes symptoms in others and makes others so sick that it leads to 280,000 deaths in the U.S. is disturbing, he said.

“I hope someday we find out,” Fauci said.

Check out: Dr. Fauci’s 18-hour workday includes two breaks and answering ‘emails until I’m so tired I can’t do anymore’

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