Fauci, Alexander address reopening economy
WASHINGTON – Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said U.S. testing for coronavirus is “nothing to celebrate” because the country “treaded water” during the early stages of the pandemic while other countries such as South Korea tested people aggressively to curb the outbreak.
President Donald Trump said Monday the country prevailed in testing for the virus because it has conducted 9 million tests so far, which is the most of any country and more per capita than most countries.
But Romney said by March 6, the U.S. conducted only 2,000 tests while South Korea completed 140,000. Romney said more aggressive testing was part of the reason why South Korea has had 256 deaths, while the U.S. has more than 80,000.
But Romney said while he understood why a politician would frame data for political gain, he didn’t expect that from an admiral such as Dr. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services for health.
“Yesterday you celebrated that we had done more tests and more tests per capita even than South Korea. You ignored the fact that they accomplished theirs at the beginning of the outbreak, while we treaded water during February and March,” Romney said. “I find our testing record nothing to celebrate whatsoever.”
– Bart Jansen
Fauci on finding a vaccine: ‘It’s definitely not a long shot’
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, expressed optimism Tuesday that a vaccine will eventually be found for the coronavirus.
“It’s definitely not a long shot,” Fauci told Sen. Mitt Romney during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
The Utah Republican asked how likely it is that there will be a vaccine in a year or two.
“It is much more likely than not that we will get a vaccine,” Fauci answered.
Because the overwhelming majority of people who get COVID-19 recover, he explained, the body is capable of clearing the virus. That means that scientists should be able to figure out how to stimulate the body with a vaccine to get the same response.
– Maureen Groppe
Fauci says 80,000 US coronavirus deaths is ‘unacceptable’
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., highlighted differences in how South Korea and the United States responded to the coronavirus during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing Tuesday.
While America tests more of its population now, South Korea was testing its population at 40 times the U.S. during March, Kaine said. Health officials said the country will have a capacity for 1.3 to 1.7 million tests per day in September, but tested 395,000 on Monday.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Kaine said.
South Korea aggressively traced people who had contact with people who became infected, Kaine said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had a good system for contact tracing, but health officials said the U.S. system became overwhelmed by the number of cases.
“Unfortunately as the cases rose, it went beyond the capacity and we went to mitigation, so we lost the containment edge,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC director.
Kaine asked Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, whether more than 80,000 U.S. deaths so far was unacceptable.
“Yes, of course,” Fauci said. “A death rate that high in any manner or form in my mind is unacceptable.”
– Bart Jansen
Fauci on coronavirus: ‘We don’t have it completely under control’
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the nation is moving in the right direction on tackling the coronavirus but acknowledged that it is nowhere near being contained.
Infections and hospitalizations are declining in some areas while spiking in others, he said during a Tuesday hearing by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
“We don’t have it completely under control,” he said in response to questions from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
The former presidential candidate put the blame on President Donald Trump, saying he has to stop pretending that bad news will go away if he ignores it.
“We are running out of time to save lives and we need to act now,” she said.
– Maureen Groppe
Fauci says he doesn’t have an ‘easy answer’ for children out of school
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., raised concerns about the effects on children from the closed schools, during a Tuesday meeting of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
They’re falling behind on brain development, may not have adequate nutrition and their parents might not be able to work with kids at home, he said. Cassidy asked whether the government has considered the costs, along with the benefits, of keeping schools closed.
“I don’t have an easy answer for that,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “I just don’t.”
Fauci said he appreciates the difficult unintended consequences of the restrictions in place to slow the spread of the virus.
The situation may be different in the fall, he added. And because the virus is affecting some areas of the country more than others, some communities may not need as many restrictions.
– Maureen Groppe
Murphy says White House guidance ‘criminally vague’
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., criticized the Trump administration Tuesday for withholding detailed guidance from states about how to reopen their economies and asked when it would be released. Portions of the plan have been leaked, but officials have said it remains under review.
Murphy said Connecticut is scheduled to reopen within days, but is uncertain what technical rules to follow.
“You work for a president who is frankly undermining our efforts to comply with the guidance that you have given us,” Murphy said during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “Then the guidance you have provided is criminally vague.”
Redfield said the CDC is reviewing comments from other agencies about the guidance and that it must still be approved by the White House task force headed by Vice President Mike Pence.
“The CDC stands by to give technical assistance to your state or any state on any request,” said Redfield Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who said the guidance would be released “soon.”
“Soon isn’t good enough,” Murphy said.
– Bart Jansen
Murphy: ‘Infuriating’ that Trump says US ‘prevailed’ over coronavirus
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., called it infuriating that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned about the dangers of opening states too early mere hours after President Donald Trump said the country prevailed against the virus.
“This is infuriating to many of us because it comes hours after the president declared that we have prevailed over coronavirus, which I’m just going to tell you is going to make it harder on state leaders to keep social distancing restrictions in place,” he said. “I worry that you’re trying to have it both ways.”
Trump promoted the country’s testing Monday in a Rose Garden news conference, saying the 9 million tests so far made America a worldwide leader.
“We have met the moment, and we have prevailed,” said Trump, who later said he meant the country prevailed on testing.
– Bart Jansen
Fauci says coronavirus unlikely to disappear
Dr. Anthony Fauci said the novel coronavirus is unlikely to simply disappear, as President Donald Trump has repeatedly suggested, but that the country should be better prepared to deal with a second wave of the virus in the fall, if it arrives.
At a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., asked whether the virus was likely to return in the fall or winter, even if there is a summer lull, as happened with the 1918 flu pandemic.
“I think that possibility does exist,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Trump has suggested the virus might just disappear.
“This is going to go away without a vaccine,” Trump told Republican lawmakers on Friday. “It’s going to go away, and it’s – we’re not going to see it again, hopefully, after a period of time.”
But Fauci dismissed that notion.
“That is just not going to happen because it’s such a highly transmissible virus,” Fauci said. “Even if we get better control over the summer months, it is likely that there will be virus somewhere on this planet that will eventually get back to us.”
Fauci said better testing will be available by then to identify and trace who is sick and there will be time to stock up on emergency supplies.
“I hope that if we do have the threat of a second wave, we will be able to deal with it very effectively, to prevent it from becoming an outbreak not only worse than now, but much, much less,” Fauci said.
– Bart Jansen
Fauci: not following guidelines may lead to ‘suffering and death’
Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Tuesday that not following guidelines to reopen the country amid coronavirus may lead to “some suffering and death.”
Democrats finally got Fauci to repeat the warning, which he stated before the hearing, after Sen Patty Murray’s opening question failed to elicit those words.
Pennsylvania Sen. Robert Casey asked Fauci to restate his concern about how states are reopening. Not following the guidelines, Fauci said, presents a “real risk that you will trigger an outbreak.”
That would not only lead to “some suffering and death” that could be avoided, he added. It could also set back attempts to recover the economy.
“You can almost turn the clock back, rather than going forward,” he said. “That is my main concern.”
– Maureen Groppe
Fauci says consequences may be ‘really serious’ if guidelines ignored
The consequences for states and communities that don’t follow reopening guidelines “could be really serious,” Fauci told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday.
He was responding to Democratic Sen. Patty Murray’s effort to get him to expand to his comment that he planned to warn there will be “needless suffering and death” if the country reopens too quickly.
Fauci’s comments at the committee’s hearing on coronavirus were not as stark. But he emphasized that he’s repeatedly warned that if states skip over the various checkpoints the federal government has laid out, there will be new virus spikes that will lead to outbreaks.
In addition to waiting until cases have declined for at least two weeks before easing restrictions, communities also have to be capable of adequately responding when the virus inevitably returns, he said.
– Maureen Groppe
Fauci: Vaccine, treatment unlikely by start of school year
During a hearing on the coronavirus Tuesday, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., asked about the prospects for treatments or a vaccine to combat COVID-19 in time for colleges planning to start classes in August.
But Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said no vaccine is likely in that time frame and a possible treatment has only been tested in hospitals.
“In this case, the idea of having treatments available or a vaccine to facilitate the reentry of students into the fall term would be something that would be a bit of bridge too far,” Fauci said. “Even at top speed that we’re going, we don’t see a vaccine playing in the ability of individuals to get back to school, this term. What they really want is to know if they are safe.”
Health officials said the key for students to feel safe in returning to school will be more widespread testing, to isolate students who get infected, and good health practices such as social distancing.
Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services for health, said the current rate of 10 million tests per month could be expanded by 40 million or 50 million by September to provide more surveillance.
– Bart Jansen
Fauci says Remdesivir results ‘significant, but really modest’
In his opening remarks during a Senate coronavirus hearing Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, briefly described research being done on treatments and a vaccine for COVID-19.
While patients treated with Remdesivir recovered 31% faster, Fauci emphasized that the result was “statistically significant, but really modest.” The hope is to build on that modest success through a combination of drugs, he said during a meeting of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which is considering how and when to reopen the U.S. economy during the coronavirus pandemic.
Here’s how an unapproved drug like remdesivir, used in COVID-19 treatments, is legal, even if it’s unapproved by the FDA with unknown results.
Researchers are also working on eight possible vaccines in an accelerated process that could lead to potential results by late fall or early winter. But Fauci also cautioned that vaccines being tested could make the virus worse.
“There’s also the possibility of negative consequences, with certain vaccines can actually enhance the negative effect of the infection,” he said, adding that that’s only one of the potential problems.
– Maureen Groppe
Alexander: US testing is ‘impressive, but not nearly enough’
Sen. Lamar Alexander opened a Senate hearing on reopening the economy during coronavirus by calling U.S. testing of 9 million people “impressive, but not nearly enough.”
His comments during a meeting of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee stood in contrast to President Donald Trump’s message at a news conference Monday, when he played down concerns about testing and said America was leading the world on it.
Alexander, R-Tenn., said the U.S. has tested twice as many people as any other country and more per capita than most countries including South Korea. But Alexander said more widespread testing that brings faster results, probably through new technologies, would be needed before schools could reopen in the fall.
“What our country has done so far on testing is impressive, but not nearly enough,” Alexander said. “All roads back to work and back school lead through testing, tracking, isolation, treatment and vaccines. This requires widespread testing, millions more tests created mostly from new technologies to identify and quarantine the infected, rather than the entire population.”
Alexander also said most experts and countries underestimated the virus, which is more contagious than first expected, travels silently in people who don’t exhibit symptoms and is especially deadly for people who are elderly or suffering chronic illness.
“Almost all of us – the United States and almost every country, so far as I can tell – underestimated this virus,” Alexander said.
– Bart Jansen
Murray goes after Trump
Washington state Sen. Patty Murray immediately went after President Donald Trump during a Tuesday hearing about how and when to reopen the economy during the coronavirus pandemic.
Murrary, the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, accused him of lying and calling the administration’s response a disaster that’s been hampered by corruption and political interference.
“Trump has been more focused on fighting against the truth than fighting the virus,” Murray said.
Her barbed comments came despite committee Chairman Lamar Alexander’s opening plea that senators not spend time finger pointing. Alexander suggested that all countries, not just the United States, underestimated the virus.
Murray said the nation is nowhere close to where it needs to be to reopen safely. She called it unacceptable that there’s no national plan for testing to be free, fast and available everywhere.
– Maureen Groppe
Officials warn of possibility coronavirus will spread
The Senate hearing featuring Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top official of the White House coronavirus task force, about how and when to reopen the economy has begun.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hear from Fauci: Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services for preparedness and response; and Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.
This morning ,the four officials submitted a 25-page joint statement describing the government’s efforts to contain the spread of the virus that has infected 1.3 million Americans and killed more than 80,000, according to tracking by Johns Hopkins University. The government has also partnered with private companies to develop therapies and vaccines to combat the virus, although none is yet approved by the FDA.
“All of our efforts now are to prevent the sustained spread of this virus in our communities, but we need to be prepared for the possibility that it will spread,” the statement said.
– Bart Jansen
Some committee members appearing via video conference
The chairman, GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander, gaveled the hearing to order from his home in Tennessee because he is self-isolating after a staffer tested positive Sunday for the virus. Alexander thanked the Rules Committee, Senate Sergeant at Arms Office and other officials for organizing the unusual setup, which occurred under a one-time exception to Senate rules. Alexander said senators and staffers in the hearing room in Washington would be separated by at least 6 feet. Some senators and witnesses are attending by video conference.
Alexander noted that the number of reporters in the room were limited.
Mask-wearing senators, spaced at wide intervals around the room, were told they can remove their masks when it’s their turn to speak as long as they’re six-feet apart.
– Bart Jansen and Maureen Groppe
Fauci warns of ‘needless suffering’ if US fumbles reopening procedures
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top member of the White House coronavirus task force, plans to warn a panel of Senators on Tuesday about the danger of new COVID-19 outbreaks if states start to reopen their economies too quickly amid the pandemic.
In a hearing, which senators are forced to hold by videoconference rather than in person because of newly discovered cases within the White House, Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, plans to stress “the danger of trying to open the country prematurely.”
“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 said in an email to The New York Times that outlined what he planned to say at the hearing.
That grim warning contrasts with President Donald Trump’s enthusiastic calls for states to reopen, despite the risks.
Trump tweeted Monday that “the great people of Pennsylvania want their freedom now, and they are fully aware of what that entails. The Democrats are moving slowly, all over the USA, for political purposes.”
A member of the committee, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., tweeted Monday that it’s “time to safely reopen and start rebuilding the economy!”
The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing titled, “safely getting back to work and back to school,” could be contentious, as Republicans have tended to back Trump’s call to reopen the economy faster while Democrats have argued for more testing and contact tracing first.
Two of the four government witnesses have changed from what the committee announced in scheduling the hearing. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, and Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services for health, has been scheduled to join Fauci and Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. But they were replaced Tuesday by Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director for CDC, and Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services for preparedness and response.
In a joint statement, Schuchat, Fauci, Kadlec and Hahn said the government has taken unprecedented steps to prevent the spread of the virus and to protect Americans. The 25-page statement gave updates on the development of treatments and vaccines against the virus, although none have been approved yet by the FDA.
The hearing comes after the White House announced last week that a valet to Trump and an aide to Vice President Mike Pence both tested positive for the virus.
Three top health officials who serve on Pence’s task force – Fauci, Redfield and Hahn – are each isolating themselves after coming into contact with someone who tested positive.
And the committee chairman, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, announced Sunday he wouldn’t return to Washington from Tennessee for the hearing as he isolates himself for two weeks because one of his staffers tested positive.
The hearing will explore the balance that state and federal officials must strike between the health of citizens and the economy.
Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine in the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University who won’t be testifying at the hearing, said the keys to reopening society are to adapt to new behaviors to prevent the spread of disease, such as wearing masks, keeping six feet apart and washing hands regularly. Testing and tracing the contacts of infected people are also important to corral the virus, he said.
“The virus knows no bounds. The Secret Service couldn’t keep the virus out of the White House,” Schaffner said. “There are going to be some illnesses. The trick is to keep that at the lowest possible levels.”
White House has confirmed a second coronavirus case among West Wing staff, this time in VP Mike Pence’s office. President Trump addresses concerns.
Pamela Aaltonen, a former president of the American Public Health Association and professor emerita at Purdue University who isn’t testifying at the hearing, said the country would be well-served by a comprehensive, science-based set of national standards that could be modified for different areas of the country. For example, the rules could be different between grade schools and colleges.
“The race to reopen has resulted in much of this work not being done or if done, not communicated,” she said. “Of course, challenging because still learning about this virus and how to inactivate it.”
The decisions will be based on hospitalization rates, death rates, infection rates – and where there are shortages of emergency supplies. The reasons for reopening and the risks must all be explained or the decisions might not be sustainable, Aaltonen said.
“Plans that vary wildly among states, regions, cities may suggest to the public that there is no strong rationale for actions,” she said.
But the top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, joined 40 Senate Democrats in a letter urging Trump to develop a national strategy by May 24 for reliably and consistently testing patients nationwide.
Alexander said testing has been “very impressive,” with more than 8 million completed in the U.S., which is more than any other country and more for its population than most countries. But he said faster testing will be needed for schools to reopen in the fall.
“Well, what we have done is very impressive,” Alexander told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “It’s enough to do what we need to do today to reopen but it’s not enough, for example, when 35,000 kids and faculty show up on the University of Tennessee campus in August.”
The hearing of federal officials will provide guidance to state-level officials who will determine how and when to reopen. For example, the CDC has recommended limiting gatherings 10 people, to curb the spread of disease. But state governors began issuing orders in mid-March to close businesses, and now governors are beginning to ease those restrictions.
Pence visited Iowa Friday, after Gov. Kim Reynolds allowed the resumption of dental services last week, while keeping restrictions on other businesses. She plans to announce Tuesday more changes scheduled for Friday.
But Reynolds had visited the White House on Wednesday and has been under a modified isolation like Fauci as a precaution. She is getting tested daily, has her temperature taken repeatedly and wears a mask when interacting with staffers.
Reynolds told reporters Monday that even as restrictions are lifted, the most vulnerable people who are at least 65 years old or who have chronic conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure will need to continue staying home and minimizing travel when possible.
“We could never guarantee that Iowans wouldn’t get it,” Reynolds said. “I believe that we can and will be able to contain and manage the virus, and balance the health of Iowans with the health of our economy.”
Lawmakers are expected to challenge the witnesses about how and when it will be safe for states to reopen, after Trump disputed earlier claims by Fauci and Redfield.
Fauci told the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing March 12 that the lack of testing has been a failing.
“It’s a failing. Let’s admit it,” Fauci said. “The idea of anybody getting it easily the way people in other countries are doing it is – we are not set up for that. Do I think we should be? Yes, but we are not.”
At a Rose Garden news conference the next day, Trump denied he was responsible for the lag in testing.
“I don’t take responsibility at all because we were given a set of circumstances and we were given rules, regulations and specifications from a different time,” Trump said. “It wasn’t meant for this kind of an event with the kind of numbers that we’re talking about.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign tweeted out Trump’s reply two days later, saying Trump should have taken responsibility.
Trump has also argued that Redfield was misquoted last month in an interview with the Washington Post that was then covered by CNN.
“There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” Redfield told the Post. “We’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time.”
Redfield acknowledged at a White House news conference that the story quoted him accurately.
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