WASHINGTON • The United States’ top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci has told members of Congress that the nation does not yet have the coronavirus under control and is seeing a “disturbing surge” of infections in some parts of the country, as Americans ignore social distancing guidelines and states reopen without adequate plans for testing and tracing the contacts of those who get sick.
Dr Fauci’s assessment, delivered on Tuesday during a lengthy hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, painted a much grimmer picture of the coronavirus threat than the one given by US President Donald Trump, who said last week that the virus that has infected over 2.4 million Americans and killed more than 120,000 would just “fade away”.
“The virus is not going to disappear,” Dr Fauci said. On the contrary, the next two weeks would be critical to controlling its spread, he said, warning of a dangerous situation looming this winter, when the regular flu season will intersect with Covid-19, producing “two respiratory-borne infections simultaneously confounding each other”.
Dr Fauci also delivered a stern message to young people, saying they could endanger others by ignoring the coronavirus threat.
And after mass protests for racial justice and a campaign rally that Mr Trump held in Tulsa, Oklahoma, despite public health warnings, he suggested that Americans needed to do a better job of taking precautions to reduce the virus’ spread.
“Plan A: Don’t go in a crowd,” he said. “Plan B: If you do, make sure you wear a mask.”
Dr Fauci’s testimony, and the testimonies of three other doctors who have helped lead the government’s coronavirus response, cast a dark cloud over the sunny accounts offered by the President as he has portrayed the US as a nation bouncing back from the brink.
Shortly before the hearing began, Mr Trump used Twitter to complain that he was not getting credit for his response to the virus, noting that Dr Fauci, “who is with us in all ways”, has “a very high 72% approval rating” – much higher than the President’s, which stands around 41 per cent.
The other doctors – Admiral Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for public health; Dr Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of food and drugs; and Dr Robert Redfield, the director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention – struck a similarly sombre tone.
Dr Redfield called the pandemic “the greatest public health crisis our nation and our world have confronted in more than a century”, and one that had “brought this nation to its knees”.
Getting a flu shot, he said, would be even more important this year.
“This single act will save lives,” Dr Redfield said.
All four doctors contradicted Mr Trump’s assertions at the Tulsa rally that he had asked “my people” to “slow the testing down” because it was revealing more infections, making the country look bad, saying they knew of no such request.
“We are proceeding in just the opposite,” said Adm Giroir.
“The only way that we will be able to understand who has the disease, who is infected, and can pass it, and to do appropriate contact tracing is to test appropriately, smartly – and as many people as we can.”
Questioned about Mr Trump’s refusal to wear a mask, Dr Fauci did not directly criticise the President, but told lawmakers that it was important for public officials like him to wear face masks, “not only because I want to protect others and to protect myself, but also to set an example”.
Newly diagnosed coronavirus cases are soaring in hot spots across the US, data indicate, driving city and state officials to consider slowing or reversing reopening plans.
Cases are surging in Texas, Florida, Arizona and California, which on Tuesday broke its record for new cases for the fourth day in the past week, adding over 5,000 infections.
Arizona also broke its daily case record, adding nearly 3,600. Seen on a rolling seven-day basis, Florida’s new cases reached 23,397, the highest ever. Texas recorded more than 5,000 new cases in the past 24 hours, also a record daily toll.
Despite the surge in his state, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, the Republican leader of the second-most populous state, said during an interview with KTBX television on Tuesday that he has no intention of reimposing an economic lockdown at this time, and that schools will reopen as planned in late summer.