Washington — Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s top infectious diseases experts, told a Senate panel Tuesday that he “would not be surprised” to see the number of daily new coronavirus cases balloon to 100,000 per day if the country does not take action to stop the spread of new infections.
At a hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Fauci said he was “very concerned” about the rise in new cases across the country, saying “the numbers speak for themselves.”
“Clearly we are not in total control right now,” Fauci said, noting that “we’re going in the wrong direction” in terms of new cases. Fauci said he could not estimate how many people would ultimately be infected, but said the numbers could get much worse.
“It is going to be very disturbing, I will guarantee you that, because when you have an outbreak in one part of the country, even though in other parts of the country they’re doing well, they are vulnerable,” Fauci continued. “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.”
Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, June 30, 2020. / Credit: Al Drago / AP
His testimony comes as outbreaks in several states fuel concerns about the persistence of the virus. States like Florida and Texas have seen record numbers of new cases in recent days, and governors there have paused or rolled back some of their reopening measures.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, appeared before lawmakers alongside Admiral Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for Health and Human Services; Dr. Stephen Hahn, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner; and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control.
In his opening statement, Redfield said hospitalizations are rising in 12 states and daily deaths are up in Arizona. They also discussed the difficulties education administrators face in reopening schools in the fall. Giroir urged school leaders to follow CDC guidelines in terms of testing, facial coverings and social distancing.
Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the HELP Committee, said that he has urged President Trump to wear a mask in public more often, expressing dismay that wearing facial coverings has become politicized.
“I have suggested the president should occasionally wear a mask even though there are not many occasions when it is necessary for him to do so. The president has millions of admirers. They would follow his lead,” Alexander said. The president has rarely been seen wearing a mask.
Under questioning by Senator Bernie Sanders, Giroir said he believed it would be helpful to make free masks available to all Americans. All the officials also agreed with Sanders’ premise that when a vaccine is produced, it should be made freely available to all Americans.
Fauci urged school administrators to make decisions about reopening based on what phase of reopening their state or region is in, and ensure that health guidelines are followed.
“The basic fundamental goal would be as you possibly can to get the children back to school and use the public health efforts as a tool to help the children get back to school,” Fauci said.
Fauci warned Sunday that the U.S. is not likely to achieve herd immunity to the coronavirus if a portion of the population refuses to get a vaccine once it’s available. If enough people in a population are immune to a disease, generally through vaccination, this helps suppress outbreaks and provide protection to people who are not immune.
He said in an interview that was part of the Aspen Ideas Festival that he’d “settle” for a COVID-19 vaccine that is between 70% and 75% effective. However, with that level of effectiveness, if 25% of Americans do not get vaccinated, Fauci said it’s “unlikely” the U.S. will reach herd immunity. According to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the percentage of a population that must be immune ranges between 70% to 90% to achieve herd immunity, depending on how contagious a disease is.
Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, has expressed concern and frustration lately about “a general anti-science, anti-authority, anti-vaccine feeling among some people in this country.”
On testing, which is considered to play an important role in monitoring the progress of the disease among Americans as states reopen, Giroir told a House panel last week that the U.S. is conducting around 500,000 tests per day, with the expectation that 40 to 50 million tests will be conducted per month by the fall.
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