'I don’t judge one crowd vs. another': Fauci clashes with GOP lawmaker over protests during coronavirus

Dr. Anthony Fauci fought back against questioning from a Republican lawmaker on Friday over whether recent protests against police brutality and racial discrimination increased the spread of novel coronavirus.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio repeatedly pressed the top health official on whether the government should limit protesting in Portland and other cities to stop the virus’s spread.

Jordan, one of Trump’s most loyal and aggressive allies, complained on Friday that government officials “are stopping people from going to church,” but not shutting down protests.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies before a House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing on July 31, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

“I can tell you that crowds are known, particularly when you don’t have a mask, to increase the acquisition and transmission. No matter what the crowd is,” Fauci said.

Jordan’s questioning, which occurred during a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis panel investigating the nation's response to the pandemic, echoed arguments from conservatives who have said a double standard exists as it relates to coronavirus restrictions. They say liberals and some public health experts have supported widespread Black Lives Matter protests, while pushing for restrictions on churches and other gatherings.

RELATED: Little evidence that George Floyd protests spread coronavirus in US

Fauci refused to be drawn into the politically sensitive debate. In his response, Fauci reiterated, “I’m not favoring anybody over anybody. I’m just making a statement that is a broad statement, avoid crowds of any type, no matter where you are, because that leads to the acquisition and transmission.”

“I don’t judge one crowd versus another crowd. When you’re in a crowd, particularly if you’re not wearing a mask, that induces the spread,” Fauci said.

Public health experts say masks help prevent an infected person who has yet to develop symptoms from passing the virus to others. For mask wearers, there's also some evidence that facial coverings can offer a degree of protection from an infected person nearby.

The panel also discussed the outlook for a successful COVID-19 vaccine. Fauci expressed “cautious” optimism that a vaccine would be available, particularly by next year.

“I believe, ultimately, over a period of time in 2021, that Americans will be able to get it,” Fauci said, referring to the vaccine.

RELATED: Fauci optimistic COVID-19 vaccine will be widely available

This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.