WASHINGTON – Leading U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci on Tuesday warned Congress that a premature opening of the nation’s economy could lead to additional outbreaks of the deadly coronavirus.
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases warned a U.S. Senate panel that states should follow health experts’ recommendations to wait for signs including a declining number of new infections before reopening.
President Donald Trump has been encouraging states to end a weeks-long shuttering of major components of their economies.
“If some areas, cities, states or what have you jump over those various checkpoints and prematurely open up without having the capability of being able to respond effectively and efficiently, my concern is that we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks,” Fauci said. “The consequences could be really serious.”
Fauci, a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that the nation’s efforts to battle the deadly virus and the COVID-19 disease it triggers should be “focused on the proven public health practices of containment and mitigation.”
Fauci, 79, testified remotely in a room lined with books as he self-quarantines after he may have come into contact with either of two members of the White House staff who were diagnosed with COVID-19.
Last week, Fauci was blocked by the White House from testifying to a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives panel. The White House had said such testimony by the infectious disease expert would have been “counterproductive.”
“All roads back to work and back to school run through testing and that what our country has done so far on testing is impressive, but not nearly enough,” Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate committee, said in an opening statement to Tuesday’s hearing.
Alexander is also self-quarantining in his home state of Tennessee for 14 days after a member of his staff tested positive. Alexander chaired the hearing virtually.
Trump, who previously made the strength of the economy central to his pitch for his November re-election, has encouraged states to reopen businesses that had been deemed non-essential amid the pandemic.
His administration has largely left it to states to decide whether and how to reopen. State governors are taking varying approaches, with a growing number relaxing tough restrictions enacted to slow the outbreak, even as opinion polls show most Americans are concerned about reopening too soon.
Senator Patty Murray, the senior committee Democrat, criticizing aspects of the administration’s response to the pandemic, said Americans “need leadership, they need a plan, they need honesty and they need it now, before we reopen.” Others testifying on Tuesday included U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn. Each testified remotely.