Fauci, in Senate testimony, warns of new coronavirus 'outbreaks' if states jump 'checkpoints' to reopen

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the face of the White House coronavirus task force, warned in testimony Tuesday before the Senate Health Committee that reopening the economy before certain "checkpoints" set up in the White House's coronavirus recovery plan are met could bring "serious" consequences.

"As I have said many times publicly, what we have worked out is a guideline framework for how to open America again,” Fauci said.

"Depending on the dynamics of an outbreak in a particular region, state, city or area, that would really determine the speed and the pace with which one does reenter or reopen... I get concerned if you have a situation where the dynamics of an outbreak in an area are such that you are not seeing that gradual over 14-day decrease allowing you to go to phase 1," Fauci said.

"If some areas – cities states or what have you – jump over those barriers, 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."


When asked by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., what could happen if areas do ignore the "checkpoints," Fauci said, "The consequences could be really serious."

The hearing, which features Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), as well as three other top administration health officials, is the biggest congressional hearing since the coronavirus crisis began. Fauci did not rip on the Trump administration's response to the pandemic in his planned remarks, instead emphasizing efforts by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop vaccines and other medical means to fight the coronavirus.

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"Hopefully our research efforts, together with the other public health efforts, will get us quickly to an end to this terrible ordeal that we are all going through," Fauci said.

"NIH is focused on developing safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics, and sensitive, specific, and rapid point-of-care diagnostic tests," Fauci also said in written remarks submitted to the committee. "These efforts will improve our response to the current pandemic and bolster our preparedness for the next, inevitable emerging disease outbreak"

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On one point, Fauci said the government is focusing on several different vaccine candidates, using the hockey term "multiple shots on goal" to describe the increased chances that one would work. Additionally, he said if more than one is successful that would help increase the availability of the vaccines globally.

But, Fauci noted, "there's no guarantee that a vaccine is going to be effective."

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Fauci appeared remotely due to concerns that he might have been exposed to the coronavirus. Multiple senators also appeared virtually for the hearing, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the committee, and Murray, the ranking member.

"After consulting with Dr. Fauci, and in an abundance of caution for our witnesses, senators, and the staff, all four Administration witnesses will appear by videoconference due to these unusual circumstances," Alexander said in a statement.

Alexander, in his opening remarks, emphasized the necessity of testing and also said the government might make an effort to mass-manufacture a vaccine before it’s been proven to work so it can be quickly distributed once it’s officially approved.

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“Those vaccines, those treatments, are the ultimate solution,” he said. “But until we have them, all roads back to work and school go through testing."

Murray wasted no time hitting the president in her opening remarks.

"Families across the country are counting on us for the truth about the COVID-19 pandemic, especially since it is clear they will not get it from President Trump," she said. "Truth is essential... The president isn't telling the truth. We must. And our witnesses must."

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She also criticized the Trump administration's tangible response to the virus, saying it has been marked by delays and insufficient assistance to states and health professionals. Additionally, she advocated for another coronavirus stimulus bill to help ease the burden of the economic shutdowns across the country aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

Fauci, when questioned by Alexander, said it would not be reasonable to expect a vaccine to be ready for back-to-school season this year. Trump has said he would like to have a vaccine by the end of the year.

"The idea of having treatments or a vaccine ... ready by the fall ... would be something of a bridge too far," he said.

Admiral Brett Giroir, the Assistant Secretary for Health, emphasized that the U.S. had conducted "more than 9 million COVID-19 tests, a number far greater than any other country and double the per capita tests performed to date in South Korea," a nation that many have held up as the model for handling the coronavirus' effects.

He noted that by the late summer and early fall, he expected the U.S. to be able to perform between 40 and 50 million coronavirus tests per month.

Democrats see the hearing as an opportunity to separate Fauci from President Trump, whom the medical expert is almost always with when he appears publicly, so that Fauci will feel free to criticize Trump. Critics of the president have argued his response to the coronavirus crisis was wholly inadequate, with Trump initially downplaying the threat before letting petty politics get in the way of helping states overwhelmed by the threat before moving too quickly to reopen the economy.

Trump previously blocked Fauci from appearing before a House committee, saying the members of the Democrat-controlled House are "haters."

Fauci has said very little critical of Trump in his public appearances but is expected to warn against reopening the economy too soon on Wednesday, according to the New York Times.

"If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country. This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal," Fauci told the Times in an email.

"Until now, we've mostly heard from the members of the coronavirus task force through the distorted lens of the White House press conference where the president often prevents them from answering fully, interrupts their response, or even contradicts their fact-based evidence," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on Monday.

"This will be one of the first opportunities for Dr. Fauci to tell the American people the unvarnished truth without the president lurking over his shoulder. Dr. Fauci, let it rip," he added.

Fauci was joined by Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; and Giroir.