Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and three other top health officials testified before a House committee on Tuesday about the coronavirus.
Here’s a look at the major points Fauci made during his testimony.
Fauci says he’s ‘cautiously optimistic’ a vaccine will be developed soon
Fauci testified in his opening statement on Tuesday morning that a vaccine candidate for the coronavirus will enter Phase 3 of study in July.
Earlier this month, Cambridge-based Moderna announced the experimental COVID-19 vaccine it is developing with the US National Institutes of Health was on track to be tested in 30,000 volunteers.
“This is one that has already shown in preliminary studies some very favorable response in the animal models that we’ve developed,” Fauci said.
Fauci also said that he feels “cautiously optimistic” that a vaccine could be made “available to the American public within a year from when we started, which would put us at the end of this calendar year and the beginning of 2021.”
“I still think there is a reasonably good chance that by the very beginning of 2021, if we’re going to have a vaccine, that we will have it by then,” he reiterated later on in the hearing.
“I feel cautiously optimistic that we will be successful in getting a vaccine. There’s never a guarantee of that, but the early data that we’re seeing. . . makes me cautiously optimistic,” he said.
However, Fauci also said the US should make sure any potential coronavirus vaccine is safe before rushing into production and distribution.
Fauci said he’d be “very disappointed if we jumped to a conclusion before we know a vaccine was truly safe and effective.”
US Food and Drug Administration chief Stephen Hahn seconded Fauci’s view, saying the FDA would not cut corners when considering whether to approve a vaccine.
Despite Trump comments, Fauci says ‘we’re going to be doing more testing, not less’
In light of President Trump’s comments on Saturday that he had instructed aides to “slow the testing down, please,” Fauci said no one on the government’s coronavirus task force has been told to do so.
“I know for sure none of us have ever been told to slow down on testing. That just is a fact. In fact, we will be doing more testing,” Fauci said, noting he wanted “much more surveillance” in testing to understand community spread as it happens. “So it’s the opposite — we’re going to be doing more testing, not less.”
The other three top health officials testifying on Tuesday said they also had not been told to slow down testing.
On Tuesday morning, before Trump boarded Marine One, a reporter asked if Trump was indeed kidding when he made his comments about testing on Saturday. The president replied, “I don’t kid.”
“By having more tests, we find more cases. . . Therefore, with tests, we’re going to have more cases. By having more cases, it sounds bad, but actually what it is, is we’re finding people. Many of those people aren’t sick or very little. You know, they may be young people,” Trump said, according to a transcript of remarks provided by the White House.
When a reporter pressed Trump again on if he wanted to slow testing down, the president replied, “Here’s what I say: Testing is a double-edged sword. In one way, it tells you you have cases. In another way, you find out where the cases are and you do a good job.”
Fauci says he’s concerned about the ‘disturbing surge’ of cases in some states
When Fauci was asked to give his view on where the United States stands today against the fight against the coronavirus, the doctor replied, “It really is a mixed bag.”
“We’ve been hit badly,” Fauci said. “It’s a serious situation."
He said that in some areas, “we’ve done very well,” pointing to New York City’s careful reopening strategy as a positive example.
“However, in other areas of the country, we’re now seeing a disturbing surge of infections,” Fauci said, specifically mentioning states like Florida, Texas, and Arizona. In those areas, Fauci said there has been an increase in community spread, “and that’s something I’m really quite concerned about.”
Fauci said that the way to address those problem areas would be to identify cases, isolate infected people, and continue contact tracing programs to “understand where they come from and do something about it.”
“The next couple weeks are going to be critical in our ability to address those surges that we’re seeing in Florida, in Texas, and Arizona, and in other states,” he said.
Fauci says systemic racism does play a role in COVID-19′s impact on Black Americans
Fauci said that institutional racism does play a role in the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 on Black Americans.
The doctor’s remarks came in response to a question US Representative Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democrat, asked about the virus’s toll on Black people.
Fauci cited two main reasons for the disproportionate impact: He said many Black Americans are in jobs that are considered essential and require “having to mingle in society in which the virus is circulating,” and also noted that they are more likely to suffer from health conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes that worsen the symptoms of COVID.
“It’s a sort of double whammy. . . through no fault of their own,” Fauci said.
Fauci says schools will likely have varying reopening plans this fall
As he spoke about how schools would reopen around the US in the fall, he noted, “We live in a very big country ... it’s very, very different."
He noted that some areas have “such a low level of infection, schools can open in a way that’s exactly like normal.”
However, “others may be in a situation where. . . you might want to make some modifications: alterations of scheduling, things like mornings, afternoons, one day or another day. It’s up to local officials to evaluate where you are in a particular region,” he said.
“You don’t want to make a one size fits all for the United States. You want to tailor it. . . to the particular location that you’re talking about,” he said.
Fauci says those with antibodies are ‘likely’ protected
When Fauci was asked about antibodies, he launched into a lengthy explanation of how antibodies work, noting that there is still much to be learned about COVID-19 antibodies.
Fauci did say that scientists know that the virus makes antibodies, and that it’s likely they’re protecting the host for “some period of time, but we don’t know how long.”
“So the question I always get asked: If you are exposed and have antibody, are you protected? Likely you are, but we don’t know how long you are protected,” he said.
Fauci talked about a potential second wave — sort of
When a congresswoman asked Fauci for projected infection and mortality rates for early 2021, Fauci replied, “It is really impossible to give any projection about what the fatality rate or case rates are going to be. It‘s going to depend on so many factors.”
He noted that although many were talking about a second surge, “we are still in the middle of the first wave. Before you start talking about what a second wave is, what we’d like to do is get this outbreak under control over the next couple of months.”
That way, Fauci said, as we enter the fall and early winter, “when you get new cases, you can contain — and contain means identify, isolate, and contact trace — rather than have such a high level that when you get increases, that you have to mitigate right from the beginning.”
He also noted winter will bring the “complicated situation” of an inevitable flu season.
“That’s why we’ve been saying it’s so important to get as many people vaccinated for influenza as you possibly can,” he said, citing the issue of “two respiratory-borne infections simultaneously confounding each other.”
He also said that after the first surge, “we know what the failings were early on: a lack of enough PPE, N-95s, hospital bed issues, ventilator issues.” He said the national strategic stockpile now has those supplies, and said “as we go into the fall, we likely will have the capability of doing 40 to 50 million tests per month, which means we can get a much better grasp of what the situation is. . . in the community.”
“So hopefully we will be much better prepared. . . than months ago,” he said.
Fauci got into a bit of a tiff with a Republican congressman from West Virginia
When US Representative David McKinley of West Virginia asked Fauci if he thought the media was treating Trump fairly, Fauci sidestepped the question.
McKinley then asked Fauci, “Do you regret not advising people more forcefully to wear masks earlier?”
Fauci seemed to take issue with the question, because he took a somewhat piqued tone as he replied.
“OK, we’re going to play that game. Let me explain to you what happened back then,” Fauci stated.
McKinley interrupted to say, “It could be a yes or a no,”
However, Fauci seemed annoyed by that, and defended his earlier actions.
“No, there‘s more than a yes or a no, by the tone of your question,” Fauci said. “I don’t regret that. Let me explain to you what happened. At the time, there was a [scarcity] of equipment that our healthcare providers needed. . . we did not want to divert masks and PPE away from them to be used by the people.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.