WASHINGTON — A top Trump administration health official warned U.S. senators Tuesday that reopening the economy too quickly could cause suffering, death and an even longer economic setback.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, told lawmakers there could be a surge of COVID-19 cases if states, cities and regions disregard the government’s “checkpoints” on when and how to pull back from mitigation measures.
“If that occurs, there is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you might not be able to control, which, in fact, paradoxically, will set you back, not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided, but could even set you back on the road to trying to get economic recovery,” said Fauci.
“We would almost turn the clock back, rather than going forward.”
His statements came at a highly anticipated hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He last testified before the panel March 3, before President Donald Trump declared a national emergency over the novel coronavirus.
The unprecedented hearing included remote testimony from Fauci and the other witnesses, including representatives from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration.
About half of the senators were in the hearing room — spaced 6 feet apart at an extended dais that took the whole room, where spectators would usually sit. Some senators wore masks but removed them for questioning. Other senators dialed in from their homes.
Overall, Fauci said that some parts of the country are seeing spikes in infection, while the curve looks flat or is trending downward in other areas.
“I think we are going in the right direction, but the right direction does not mean we have, by any means total control of this outbreak,” Fauci said.
His remarks were markedly more guarded than the more optimistic portrait Trump outlined in remarks at a White House briefing Monday.
Trump said the number of coronavirus cases were going down “almost everywhere,” even though many states show a steady number of new cases. An internal report obtained by NBC shows cases spiking in some communities.
“We have met the moment and we have prevailed,” Trump told reporters at a White House briefing Monday, with tables displaying testing and treatment materials on either side of his podium. “Americans do whatever it takes to find solutions, pioneer breakthroughs, and harness the energies we need to achieve total victory.”
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