Sen. Elizabeth Warren used her time Tuesday with Dr. Anthony Fauci to underscore the urgency of preparing for the potential of a second coronavirus wave.
During the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing, Warren asked Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, about his recent comments that a second round of COVID-19 is “inevitable” later this year.
“Do we have enough robust countermeasures in place that we don’t have to worry about a bad fall and winter?” the Massachusetts senator asked, paraphrasing Fauci’s warning last month about what might happen if the United States doesn’t take sufficient action.
During the hearing, Fauci and other top government health experts warned that lifting shutdown orders and restrictions too quickly could cause a spike in deaths due to COVID-19. They also said the government hopes to have the ability to conduct 40 to 50 million tests per month, which is around the low end of what experts say is needed to contain the disease.
In response to Warren’s question, Fauci reiterated that the federal government plans to have enough testing ahead of a potential second wave.
“The projection is that by the time we get to the end of the summer and early fall, we will have that in place,” he said.
“If we don’t do better on testing, on contact tracing, and on social distancing, will deaths from coronavirus necessarily increase?” she asked.
“Of course,” Fauci said. “If you do not do an adequate response, we will have the deleterious consequence of more infections and more deaths, and that’s the reason why you quoted me, Senator, quite correctly — everything you said.”
Fauci said he stood by his comments last month, telling CNN that the country “could be in for a bad fall and a bad winter” if countermeasures are lacking.
“If we do not respond in an adequate way, when the fall comes, given that it is without a doubt that there will be infections that will be in the community, then we run the risk of having a resurgence,” he said Tuesday. “I would hope by that point in time in the fall that we have more than enough to respond adequately. But if we don’t, there would be problems.”
Warren, who has called for a much more coordinated federal response, noted that President Donald Trump’s administration still has a lot of ground to make up; according to the COVID-19 Tracking Project, the country is currently conducting around 300,000 tests a day, compared to the at least 2 million some say are needed.
“I wish we could tell the American people that the federal government has this pandemic under control — but we can’t,” Warren said, adding that seniors and frontline workers will be the ones disproportionately hurt by the disease.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, who also testified during the hearing Tuesday, has warned that the second round of the disease this fall could actually be more deadly, since it would coincide with flu season.
“The president needs to stop pretending that if he just ignores bad news it will go away,” Warren said. “The time for magical thinking is over here.”
Both Warren and Fauci, as well as a majority of the Senate hearing participants, spoke remotely from a video screen Tuesday.
The Cambridge Democrat also asked Fauci about a reported Trump administration memo projecting the number of new COVID-19 cases a day to increase from 25,000 to 200,000 by June. Even as states begin to lift shutdown orders, Fauci said he doesn’t foresee such a dramatic increase.
“I am hoping — and looking at the dynamics of things starting to flatten off and come down — that we will be much, much better than that,” the longtime infectious disease expert said.
Fauci said the country is seeing some positive trends when it comes to flattening the curve of the outbreak. But as the number of deaths due to COVID-19 nationwide passes 75,000 at a rate of around 2,000 a day, he conceded that the disease hasn’t yet been contained.
“If you think that we have it completely under control, we don’t,” Fauci said.
“If you look at the dynamics of the outbreak, we are seeing a diminution of hospitalizations and infections in some places,” he continued, specifically mentioning New York City and New Orleans, which were early hot spots of the outbreak.
“But in other parts of the country, we are seeing spikes,” Fauci said. “So when you look at the dynamics of new cases, even though some are coming down, the curve looks flat with some slight coming down. So I think we’re going in the right direction, but the right direction does not mean we have — by any means — total control of this outbreak.”