Dr. Anthony Fauci on Tuesday warned that the United States was “going in the wrong direction” in fighting the coronavirus outbreak, as he estimated that new cases could reach 100,000 a day if Americans do not begin following public health recommendations.
Fauci, the infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health, testified alongside other public health officials during a hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.
“I’m very concerned about what’s going on right now,” Fauci told Senator Elizabeth Warren in response to a question about where the US stands in fighting the outbreak. “Clearly, we are not in total control right now.”
Asked to forecast the outcome of recent surges in some states, Fauci said he couldn’t make an accurate prediction, but believes it will be “very disturbing.”
“We are now having 40-plus-thousand new cases a day. I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around, and so I am very concerned,” Fauci said.
Fauci said areas seeing recent outbreaks are putting the entire nation at risk, including areas that have made progress in reducing COVID-19 cases. He cited recent video footage of people socializing in crowds, often without masks, and otherwise ignoring safety guidelines.
“Congregation in a bar, inside, is bad news. We’ve really got to stop that right now, when you have areas that are surging like we see right now,” Fauci said.
Fauci stressed that individuals needed to do their part in stemming the outbreak and noted that cases are rising even in states that reopened portions of their economy carefully.
“I think we need to emphasize the responsibility we have, both as individuals and as part of a societal effort to end the epidemic, that we all have to play a part in that,” he said.
Fauci testified alongside FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, who outlined the guidelines for potential vaccines at the Senate hearing, which focused on reopening schools and workplaces.
Hahn said vaccine developers will be expected to study COVID-19 shots in racial minorities, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with other health conditions.
Hahn said “while the FDA is committed to help expedite this work, we will not cut corners in our decision-making.”
The agency has come under criticism for granting emergency authorization to a malaria drug touted by President Trump as a treatment for coronavirus. The agency revoked that designation earlier this month after studies found the drug was ineffective against the virus.
The United States is set to begin a 30,000-person trial of a government-created vaccine starting next month. Under the Trump administration’s program dubbed “Operation Warp Speed,” health officials aim to have 300 million doses on hand by January.
About 15 experimental COVID-19 vaccines are in various stages of testing worldwide. There is no guarantee that any will prove effective.
A leading Republican senator kicked off the hearing by saying Trump should start wearing a mask at least some of the time because politics is getting in the way of protecting the American people from COVID-19.
“The stakes are too high for the political debate about pro-Trump, anti-Trump masks to continue,” said Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
Alexander had to self-quarantine after he was exposed to a staff member who tested positive. But the senator says he was protected because the staffer was wearing a mask.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.