WASHINGTON D.C. - Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, is warning Congress that reopening the economy too soon during the coronavirus pandemic will result in “needless suffering and death.”
Fauci is among the health experts testifying Tuesday to a Senate panel. His testimony comes as President Donald Trump is praising states that are reopening after the prolonged lockdown aimed at controlling the virus’s spread.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said as the hearing opened that “what our country has done so far in testing is impressive, but not nearly enough.”
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 U.S., is testifying via video conference after self-quarantining as a White House staffer tested positive for the virus.
With the U.S. 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.”
A recent Associated Press review determined that 17 states did not meet a key White House benchmark for loosening restrictions — a 14-day downward trajectory in new cases or positive test rates. Yet many of those have begun to reopen or are about to do so, including Alabama, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah.
Of the 33 states that have had a 14-day downward trajectory of either cases or positive test rates, 25 are partially opened or moving to reopen within days, the AP analysis found. Other states that have not seen a 14-day decline, remain closed despite meeting some benchmarks.
Fauci put himself in quarantine after a White House staffer tested positive for the virus. Alexander also put himself in quarantine after an aide tested positive.
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 — both in self-quarantine—and Adm. Brett Giroir, the coronavirus “testing czar” at the Department of Health and Human Services.
The health committee hearing offers a very different setting from the White House coronavirus task force briefings the administration witnesses have all participated in. Most significantly, Trump will not be controlling the agenda.
Eyeing the November elections, Trump has been eager to restart the economy, urging on protesters who oppose their state governors’ stay-at-home orders and expressing his own confidence that the coronavrius will fade away as summer advances and Americans return to work and other pursuits.
The U.S. has seen at least 1.3 million infections and nearly 81,000 confirmed deaths from the virus, the highest toll in the world by far, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.