Dr. Anthony Fauci suggested that South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem was playing to the crowd when she criticized him over the weekend.

Fauci appeared on CBS’s “Face The Nation” with host Margaret Brennan on Sunday to respond to Noem, who took a shot at him in a Saturday speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that took place in Orlando, Fla., over the weekend.

Noem, a Republican, has touted her state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and argued against heavy-handed lockdown policies pushed by Fauci and others. During her CPAC speech, Noem told the crowd, “I don’t know if you agree with me, but Dr. Fauci is wrong a lot.”

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, characterized Noem’s comments as “unfortunate” and “not really helpful.” He went on to say that criticizing him would land a “standing ovation” at the conference.

“You know, it’s unfortunate, but it is not really helpful because sometimes you think things are going well and just take a look at the numbers. They don’t lie,” Fauci said. “We see, Margaret, what happens when you pull back prematurely.”

Noem governed her state with a relatively light touch during the pandemic, using hospital capacity as a metric for when to institute emergency orders restricting residents. South Dakota currently boasts one of the smallest unemployment rates in the country at 3.7%, tied for fourth with Vermont. South Dakota ranks eighth nationally in the number of deaths from COVID-19 per capita.

Fauci continued, cautioning Americans of new variants of the disease that “are maybe even more dangerous” than the predominant strain of the coronavirus. Fauci has said that Americans may need to wear masks and social distance well into 2022 despite effective vaccines against COVID-19 currently inoculating millions of Americans against the disease.

“Now, you’re going to have individual instances of situations where people may not have and didn’t see a rebound right away, but you’ve really got to be careful, particularly now that we have variants in this country that seem to spread more efficiently, and are maybe even more dangerous in regard to pathogenicity,” Fauci said. “So I’m sure that, you know, you can get a standing ovation for saying I’m wrong.”

During her speech, Noem defended her record on the pandemic and took shots at Fauci for pushing policies that the South Dakota governor said were largely unnecessary in her state.

“In South Dakota, I provided all of the information that we had to our people, and then I trusted them to make the best decisions for themselves [on how to prevent the spread of the virus] for their families and in turn their communities,” she said.

“We never focused on case numbers. Instead, we kept our eye on hospital capacity. Dr. Fauci told me that I would have 10,000 COVID patients in the hospital on our worst day. On our worst day, we had a little over 600. I don’t know if you agree but, Fauci is wrong a lot,” Noem added.

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