Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens as President Joe Biden speaks during an event to commemorate the 50 millionth COVID-19 shot, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Washington. Credit: Evan Vucci / AP

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday he would have been stunned if he knew a year ago that the United States’ COVID-19 death toll would reach such devastating levels — and blamed the grim tally partially on politics.

“We had such divisiveness in our country that even simple, commonsense public health measures took on a political connotation,” Fauci said on NBC’s “Today” show.

The country’s top infectious disease expert said the country diverged into two distinct tribes in a year that brought more than half a million COVID-19 deaths.

“If you wanted to wear a mask, you were on this side,” Fauci said. “If you wanted to stay in and avoid congregate settings, you were on this side. It wasn’t a pure public health approach.”

Thursday marks exactly one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. At the time, the U.S. case count had only just eclipsed 1,000, but fears of the virus prompted officials to put in place the first international travel restrictions.

That same day, Fauci had told Congress that “things will get worse” but declined to offer a figure on how many fatalities might be in store. He said it would depend on the U.S. response.

Former President Donald Trump, in stark contrast to health officials, tried to play down the severity of the virus, saying on March 12, 2020: “It’s going to go away.”

On Thursday morning, Fauci said he would have never predicted over half a million deaths in America, which has by far the highest national death count in the world.

“It would have shocked me completely,” Fauci told NBC. “I did not in my mind think that ‘much worse’ was going to be 525,000 deaths.”

Tim Balk, New York Daily News