WASHINGTON (AP) — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, is warning Congress that if the country reopens too soon during the coronavirus pandemic, it will result in “needless suffering and death.”
Fauci is among the health experts testifying to a Senate panel. His testimony comes as President Donald Trump is praising states that are reopening after the prolonged lock-down aimed at controlling the virus’ spread.
Fauci, a member of the coronavirus task force charged with shaping the response to COVID-19, which has killed tens of thousands of people in the US, is testifying via video conference after self-quarantining as a White House staffer tested positive for the virus.
With the US economy in free-fall and more than 30 million people unemployed, Trump has been pressuring states to reopen.
Fauci, in a statement to The New York Times, warned that officials should adhere to federal guidelines for a phased reopening, including a “downward trajectory” of positive tests or documented cases of coronavirus over two weeks, robust contact tracing and “sentinel surveillance” testing of asymptomatic people in vulnerable populations, such as nursing homes.
“If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines…then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country,” Fauci wrote. “This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.”
Other senior health officials scheduled to testify before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee will also appear via video link after going into self-quarantine, following their exposure to a White House staffer who tested positive. The chairman of the committee, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, also put himself in quarantine after an aide tested positive. He’ll participate by video, too.
Besides Fauci, of the National Institutes of Health, the other experts include FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn and Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with Adm. Brett Giroir, the coronavirus “testing czar” at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Even before the gavel drops, the hearing offers two takeaways for the rest of the country, said John Auerbach, president of the nonprofit public health group Trust for America’s Health.
“One thing it tells you is that the virus can have an impact in any workplace setting or any community setting,” said Auerbach. “All businesses will find it very challenging to ensure safety when there are cases.”
Another lesson is that the public officials involved are taking the virus seriously by not appearing in person. “They are following the guidelines that they are recommending to others,” said Auerbach. “There is not a double standard.”
The main questions for the administration experts revolve around the “Three T’s,” or testing, tracing and treatment. Without widespread testing, state and local officials will be basing decisions to reopen businesses and schools on incomplete data with blind spots lurking. Without the ability to do the painstaking work of tracing the contacts of people infected, unwitting transmission will continue. Without effective treatments, hospitals in a given community could be overwhelmed in a COVID-19 rebound. Ultimately, the goal is a vaccine that would offer widespread protection.
The health committee hearing offers a very different setting from the White House coronavirus task force briefings the administration witnesses have all participated in. Senators on the panel are knowledgeable and some have working relationships that go back years with the agencies that the panelists are representing. Most significantly, President Donald Trump will not be controlling the agenda.
Image: FILE – In this April 22, 2020, file photo, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the new coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, in Washington. A Senate hearing on reopening workplaces and schools safely is turning into a teaching moment on the fickle nature of the coronavirus outbreak. Senior health officials, including Fauci, scheduled to testify in person before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee on Tuesday, May 12 will instead appear via video link. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)