WASHINGTON (CN) — Eighty thousand Americans have died from Covid-19 in just over 70 days, but things will only get worse, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday in remarks to the Senate, if the country rushes its return to normalcy.
“There is no doubt that even under the best circumstances, when you pull back on mitigation, you will see some cases appear,” said Fauci, one of four top medical experts who will testify at the hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
“It’s the ability and capability to respond to those cases with good identification and isolation techniques,” Fauci continued. “That determines whether you continue to go forward in trying to reopen America. It is not just about having the appropriate time and constraints in place but having the pieces in place to respond when inevitable infections occur.
Having led the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Disease since 1984, Fauci emerged this year as perhaps the most trusted faces in the White House task force on the coronavirus pandemic. In many ways not much has changed since Fauci last appeared before Congress — but the differences are stark.
For one, Fauci appeared before the House, a Democratic-controlled chamber where he is now barred from speaking on instruction from the White House.
Fauci had also been in person when he delivered his early warnings, whereas on Tuesday he addressed senators gathered in the Dirksen building via remote videoconferencing.
Representative Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who chairs the committee, noted that the set-up was a onetime exception. Fauci has been self-quarantining out of an abundance of caution after a small outbreak of the virus struck multiple members of White House staff.
The others testifying today — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield, Food and Drug Administration commissioner Stephen Hahn, and Admiral Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services — are getting similar accommodations.
From their first witness today the Senate heard a message both hopeful and grim, as Fauci testified that a vaccine is not within reach but still the best way toward putting students back in school, and bring back jobs.
“I’d be very realistic, in this case, the idea that having treatments available or a vaccine to facilitate the re-entry of students into the fall term would be something that would be a bit of a bridge too far,” Fauci said.
Fauci previewed some of today’s testimony in an email sent the previous evening 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,” he wrote. “This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.”
Discussing what he called the “modest success” of the drug remdesivir when it comes to speeding up recovery times for ailing patients, Fauci noted that it boosted recovery time by 31% in a recent trial. He also pointed out, however, that the drug is not yet ready to be considered a definitively viable treatment pathway.
“It is not yet or may ever be ready to be used as prophylaxis or for treatment,” Fauci said Tuesday.
There are eight additional vaccine candidates in clinical trial, soon to face animal testing leading into phase 2 development this summer.
“If we had a vaccine, that would be the end of the issue but even at the top speed we are going, we don’t see a vaccine playing into individuals’ ability to get back to school this term,” Fauci said.