Anthony Fauci, a prominent member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force team and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, addressed a Senate committee on Tuesday about coronavirus and several states’ plans to “reopen” their economies in the midst of a pandemic, delivering to lawmakers a dire warning about the consequences of doing so.
Fauci echoed sentiments that were made public on Monday evening in an email he sent to The New York Times, where he described what he intended to tell the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday: that easing social distancing measures right now would undoubtedly lead to more Americans being infected with COVID-19.
“The major message that I wish to convey to the Senate HLP committee [on Tuesday] is the danger of trying to open the country prematurely,” Fauci explained in that email. “If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country.”
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Fauci reiterated those worries in his comments to senators on Tuesday, and suggested that states “reopening” now could lead to problems that could grow to become bigger issues down the road.
“My concern, that if some areas, city, states, or what have you, jump over those various checkpoints and prematurely open up without having the capability of being able to respond effectively and efficiently, my concern is that we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks,” Fauci said.
In no uncertain terms, Fauci explained that more coronavirus cases would come about from easing social distancing measures at this time. “There is no doubt, even under the best of circumstances, that when you pull back on mitigation, you will see some cases,” he added.
He also expressed skepticism regarding the current death toll data in the U.S. from coronavirus being counted, which presently sits at more than 82,000 having died so far from the disease. “Most of us feel that the number of deaths are likely higher than that number,” Fauci said.
Fauci was challenged by some Republican members of the Senate committee, particularly Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who is a doctor himself, about economic matters.
“I think we ought to have a little bit of humility in our belief that we know what’s best for the economy,” Paul stated. “As much as I respect you, Dr. Fauci, I don’t think you’re the end-all. I don’t think you’re the one person who gets to make the decision.”
Fauci responded by explaining he never intended to be the decider on economic issues.
“I have never made myself out to be the end-all and only voice in this. I’m a scientist, a physician and a public health official,” he said.
Even though the White House put together a series of guidelines on how states should quantify whether they’re ready to ease social distancing or not, many are planning to “reopen” things without reaching those goals. Trump has not discouraged them from doing so, however, and has, in fact, been encouraging states to go forward with easing restrictions if they believe it’s the right time for them to do so.
The warning from Fauci, in both his Senate testimony and in his email to the Times, seems to directly contradict what Trump and the rest of the White House have tried to push, in terms of messaging, about easing up on social distancing. The president has stated at several junctures that it’s safe for much of the country to begin allowing businesses to reopen, even as testing for COVID-19 is not yet at the levels experts say is necessary in order to deal with the crisis.
In spite of these shortfalls, a number of states are starting to ease back restrictions and “reopen” their economies. According to estimates from The Washington Post, around 100 million Americans are affected by the easing of the rules, which will likely lead to a resurgence of the disease across the country, many experts predict.
Fauci’s words are respected by millions of Americans, so much so that he even garners more trust than the president. According to data from late April by a Hill-HarrisX poll, 63 percent of Americans trust Fauci with regard to information he shares about coronavirus. Conversely, only 44 percent of Americans trust what Trump has to say about the pandemic, with a majority (52 percent) saying they don’t trust him.
Other polling seems to demonstrate Americans share Fauci’s skepticism about reopening. Only 11 percent of Americans think it’s safe to end social distancing at this moment, according to a recent Economist/YouGov poll, with 19 percent saying we should wait for a month or so, and 29 percent saying it might take several months before it is safe to ease back restrictions. Another 15 percent said it could take longer than a year before social distancing rules should be rescinded.