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Dr. Fauci Warns Against Needless “Suffering And Death” If The Country Reopens Too Quickly

“If you think that we have it completely under control, we don’t,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said of coronavirus to U.S. senators a day after President Trump claimed "we have prevailed" against the virus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies before the Senate Health Committee about COVID-19 via video call on May 12, 2020.
Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies before the Senate Health Committee about COVID-19 via video call on May 12, 2020.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified Tuesday in front of the Senate via video call and warned against "suffering and death that could be avoided" if the country is reopened too quickly.

"My concern is that if states or cities or regions...disregard the checkpoints that we’ve put in our guidelines about when it is safe to proceed in pulling back on mitigation...I fear if that occurs, there is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control," Fauci said. He said this "will, in fact, paradoxically set you back, not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided, but could even set you back on the road to try to get economic recovery. It would almost turn the clock back rather than going forward. That is my major concern."

His testimony comes as more than half of states have partially reopened in the U.S., even as public health experts (Fauci included) have warned the country could experience a "second wave" of infections. The New York Times reported that many of the reopened states have failed to meet the federal guidelines that President Trump introduced in mid-April. In his Tuesday testimony, Fauci said his "concern is that we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks."

Fauci has been consistently warning states against opening too quickly while the U.S. continues to scale up its testing to acceptable levels, and has said the country’s road to recovery won’t be like "turning a light switch on and off."

During Tuesday’s hearing, Fauci also said the number of deaths in the country from COVID-19 "are likely higher" than the current reported 80,000, noting the number of people who have died at home who have not been counted in the death toll.

Fauci told the Senate Health Committee that there are at least eight vaccines in various stages of development in the U.S., and that his institute hopes to know the effectiveness of such vaccines by late fall and early winter.

"We have many candidates and hope to have multiple winners," he said, discussing the different phases of vaccine trials. 

However, Fauci warned that the status of such trials doesn’t necessarily mean students can return to school like normal this fall. "The idea of having treatments available or a vaccine to facilitate the reentry of students into the fall term would be something that would be a bit of a bridge too far," he said.

The infectious diseases expert testified from home, where he’s been in "modified quarantine" after multiple White House staffers tested positive for COVID-19. According to CBS News, he was at the White House Monday because he’s an essential worker. He said he wore a mask while socially distancing.

Last week, President Trump blocked Fauci from testifying before the House Appropriations Committee for a hearing on U.S. spending on coronavirus testing. When asked about it at a press briefing, Trump said, "The House is a bunch of Trump haters."

"The House is a setup...they put every Trump hater on the committee," the president said. He deemed Fauci’s testimony before the GOP-controlled Senate as acceptable.

Fauci was one of four witnesses who testified at the hearing, including Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield, and Health and Human Services assistant secretary Dr. Brett Giroir. Hahn and Redfield are also members of the coronavirus task force who are self-quarantining after exposure to the virus.

In his testimony, Redfield spoke of the importance of contact tracing as a tool for moving forward and reopening the country. 

Watch the hearing below: