NIAID’s Awwad Gets Fauci Ready for Prime Time
When NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci appears on television, social media or any other virtual platform, David Awwad—NIAID’s IT campus field manager—is the person who makes that appearance possible.
During the past year, as Covid-19 forced many NIH staff and others across the United States to work remotely, Awwad has been an invaluable partner enabling Fauci to share important public health information broadly with the nation. A University of Maryland graduate with a B.S. in information systems management, Awwad has worked at NIAID for more than 16 years and supervises 29 other NIAID IT staff.
Once Fauci is scheduled to appear on the news, give prepared remarks or participate in a fireside chat, Awwad gets in touch with the other organization’s technical team to determine what platform will be used, consider different time zones and schedule testing for audio and video. Sometimes there’s a teleprompter to set up or slides to accommodate. This all takes place on a tight schedule, often with back-to-back appearances. Awwad has, as of mid-November, helped Fauci make more than 1,500 appearances. Working early mornings, late nights and weekends, he has become Fauci’s one-man audio-visual and IT resource.
Fauci appreciates how critical Awwad’s dedication is to his public appearances. “During the Covid-19 pandemic, David has stepped up in an exceptional way, helping me and my office stay connected to the world with his technical skills and his commitment to the institute and our mission,” he said. “His skill, good humor and willingness to work long hours have made him a true NIAID hero over these past grueling months.”
There are numerous details involved in getting ready for Fauci’s remote appearances. The requesting organization could employ any one of multiple platforms.
“A lot of them are easy to use,” said Awwad, “but making sure the hardware and the technology work together properly, finding the right camera angle, checking the lighting and sound is where things get complicated.” All the skills required in proper camera work, lighting, sound and teleprompter use Awwad taught himself.
The process has evolved since Covid-19 first required frequent remote appearances. “When we started in January, we were in a very small room, working with only a laptop and a webcam,” said Awwad. Then the operation moved to the NIAID conference room, where they acquired a laptop stand, proper lighting for the room and a backdrop. Awwad does a test before Fauci arrives. Vital to the operation is “keeping track of the time, because sometimes there are back-to-back-to-back sessions,” he adds.
Awwad also goes to Fauci’s home to make sure all his equipment there works and is secure.
In addition to live events, Fauci must also record podcasts and prepare pre-recorded videos for various events. To do this, Awwad had to learn how to edit video. “There is a lot involved. It’s not just pushing a button. I make sure I do all the prep work, so that he can just come in and sit in the chair.”
All this work is in addition to Awwad’s regular day-to-day IT manager duties. He is grateful that his team has stepped up to the challenge. Instead of rotating other staff to work with Fauci, he takes on the task himself, to lessen the chance of spreading Covid-19 infection.
Awwad has encountered several situations that required quick thinking. When the president visited the NIH campus in March, Awwad had to set up the computers for the presentation. Issues with the machines developed, and he had to navigate security to return and address the problem. “Being available, taking care of the issue right away and staying calm is the key,” he says.
When Fauci was on The Daily Show, the recording failed on their end. Fortunately, Awwad had recorded the interview and was able to give them his backup footage.
Awwad’s wife, Ana, also works at NIH and understands the extended hours he’s had to work. The long hours have meant less time spent with his three children. Even so, he says, “It’s been a pleasure. I’m learning a lot for a good cause. It’s been challenging, but at the end of the day we are working towards progress against Covid-19.”