Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a Senate committee Tuesday that the U.S. does not have the coronavirus outbreak “completely under control,” and that the national death toll is “likely higher” than 80,000 as states begin to reopen, sparking concerns about a resurgence of the virus over the coming months.
Fauci is testifying before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee via videoconference, along with Centers for Disease Control director Robert Redfield, Food and Drug Administration commissioner Stephen Hahn and assistant Health Secretary Adm. Brett P. Giroir.
The New York Times reported that Fauci was planning to warn the Senate panel of “needless suffering and death” if states reopened too quickly, a quote referenced by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., as she questioned Fauci.
Fauci appeared to ease off, saying the “consequences could be really serious” if states bypassed federal reopening criteria, and that “in the best of circumstances you will see some cases appear” as restrictions are relaxed.
Fauci also said “it would be a bit of a bridge too far” for a vaccine or treatment to be available by the time colleges reopen this fall, and testing availability would play a role.
By September, Giroir said 40 to 50 million tests could be performed monthly, an increase from 10 million tests this month.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., asked Fauci whether the COVID-19 death toll is higher than the 80,000 reported so far in the U.S.; Fauci said the “number of deaths are likely higher” as places like New York City were not counting deaths at home as COVID-19 deaths.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., asked Fauci whether the outbreak was contained; Fauci replied, “It depends on what you mean by containment. If you think we have it completely under control, we don’t.”
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, who went after Fauci during his allotted five minutes of questioning. “I don’t think you’re the end all, I don’t think you’re the only person that gets to make the decision,” he said, as to whether all schools nationwide should stay shut this fall. Paul called for a county-by-county approach to reopening schools, as areas like Kentucky have a much lower caseload. “I never made myself out to be the end all,” Fauci replied. “I am a scientist, a physician and a public health official. I don’t give advice about economic things, I don’t give advice about anything other than public health.”
What we don’t know
“We should be humbled about what we don’t know” about the virus, Fauci said. He stressed caution, particularly when it comes to children, as a number in the U.S. are coming down with an inflammatory condition similar to Kawasaki disease. The condition could be linked to COVID-19.
Fauci also said it’s a “bridge too far” for a vaccine or treatment to be available before colleges reopen this fall. Testing, according to Giroir, will play an important role for schools and colleges, and strategies will differ for institutions with a higher level of community spread versus those seeing lower numbers.
Tuesday’s Senate panel hearing was highly anticipated, as Fauci, a trusted voice among Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic, had not testified since March 11 before Congress. The Tuesday hearing is also unique, as chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., along with Fauci, Giroir, Hahn and Redfield all participated via videoconference after having been exposed to the virus. Fauci’s comment to the New York Times made headlines earlier in the morning
for appearing to contradict President Trump’s positive outlook in a Monday press briefing.