Senate Hypes Masks as Fauci Estimates US Outbreak Will Hit 100,000 a Day

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, lowers his face mask as he prepares to testify Tuesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill. (Kevin Dietsch/UPI/pool)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Given the disease’s surge in the South and Southwest, Dr. Anthony Fauci told senators on Tuesday he would not be surprised if new cases of Covid-19 hit 100,000 per day in the United States. 

The infection rate of the novel coronavirus has been rising in the country since early June: unlike other parts of the world that have taken a more cautious approach in relaxing shutdown orders, America is now reporting upwards of 40,000 new cases per day. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, most of these new cases are focused in Southern states like Florida and Texas, as well as parts of California and Arizona.

“If you look at what’s going on and just look at some of the film clips that you’ve seen of people congregating — often without masks — of being in crowds and jumping over, and avoiding, and not paying attention to the guidelines that we very carefully put out, we’re going to continue to be in a lot of trouble,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified this morning on Capitol Hill.

“And there’s going to be a lot of hurt if that does not stop,” he added.

The Senate also heard testimony Tuesday from Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who said the uptick in cases has been linked increased community spread, though increased testing plays a role as well.

Redfield issued a plea for people, especially young people who feel less at risk for the disease, to adhere to social-distancing guidelines and wear masks to help arrest the new trend.

“It is critical that we all take the personal responsibility to slow the transmission of Covid-19 and embrace the use of universal face coverings,” Redfield told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.  

But as Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, lamented, wearing a mask to stop the spread of the virus has become yet another political battleground.

A poll released last week by Gallup found Republicans are more than 30 percentage points less likely to say they wore masks in stores regularly than Democrats. A June 26 Yahoo News/YouGov poll found a similar divide, with Democrats twice as likely as Republicans to say they always wear a mask when outside the home.

Alexander urged President Donald Trump, who makes it a point not to wear a mask in public, to set an example on face coverings. 

“The president has plenty of admirers, they would follow his lead,” Alexander said Tuesday. “It would help end this political debate. The stakes are too high for this political debate about pro-Trump, anti-Trump masks to continue.”

Fauci said that instead of viewing virus-slowing behaviors like masking as standing in opposition to efforts to reopen the country, the public should see them as an aid to returning life to normal.

“We should not look at the public health endeavors as being an obstruction to opening up, we should look at it as a vehicle to opening up,” Fauci said. “So that you don’t want to just restrict everything because people are not going to tolerate that.” 

The long-term end to the threat posed by the virus — a widely available vaccine — is still not a guarantee, but Fauci again said Tuesday he is hoping one will be available by early next year.

To that end, the Food and Drug Administration issued new guidance Tuesday for drug companies racing to develop a vaccine against Covid-19. The document lays out the minimum effectiveness and safety guidelines a vaccine must hit to receive approval, including being 50% more effective than a placebo.

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