By Thomas M. Burton and Stephanie Armour
Top Trump administration health officials emphasized the need
for caution and widespread testing while easing coronavirus
lockdowns, warning in a Senate hearing that serious risks would
continue into the fall as schools looked to reopen.
"If certain areas prematurely open up, my concern is we might
see spikes that turn into outbreaks," Anthony Fauci, director of
the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told
senators on Tuesday. "The consequences could be serious. Even in
states that reopen with a deliberate pace...there is no doubt that
when you pull back on mitigation, you will see some cases
The testimony from Dr. Fauci and others on how to safely reopen
the economy came as most states began tentative reopenings after
weeks of closure, with President Trump supporting the moves in a
bid to ease the pandemic's economic impact. The U.S. has had more
than 1.35 million confirmed coronavirus cases, and more than 81,000
people have died.
"The number is likely higher," Dr. Fauci said because, he told
senators, at the peak of the outbreak in hot spots like New York,
many people died at home and never made it to a hospital to be
confirmed positive for the virus.
Governors are seeking to increase testing capacity and build
contact-tracing teams as they move toward easing their lockdowns --
but states are also encountering friction with President Trump over
how and when to ease restrictions.
Mr. Trump on Tuesday backed Elon Musk's decision to resume
production at Tesla Inc.'s California plant, siding with the
electric-car maker over the local government in a high-profile
standoff on reopening the state.
In a tweet Tuesday, Mr. Trump wrote: "California should let
Tesla & @elonmusk open the plant, NOW. It can be done Fast
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Tuesday
afternoon that the president's concerns over the lockdowns extended
beyond just the economic impact, warning of the mental and physical
harm to people of continuing to keep the country shut down.
"We do want to reopen this country because there are
consequences that run the other way when we stay closed down as a
country," she said.
But Mr. Trump's top health officials told senators that
reopening too quickly could also be dangerous.
When asked Tuesday about the prospects of schools opening in the
fall, Dr. Fauci urged caution. Expecting medicines and vaccines to
make returning safer by the start of the school year "would be a
bit of a bridge too far," he said.
Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) said such warnings from Dr. Fauci and
others may be too strong, saying they should "be humble about
things we don't know."
Dr. Fauci said he was in fact "humble about making broad
predictions," but added that some children diagnosed with Covid-19,
the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, also are
afflicted with a "strange inflammatory syndrome."
Dr. Fauci said that with some states reopening before seeing a
steady decline in cases and deaths, "there is a real risk you could
trigger an outbreak...that could set you back rather than going
Adm. Brett Giroir, who is heading up the administration's
testing efforts, said an increased focus on testing in schools
could be used as a means of surveillance to help ensuree students
Other health officials also emphasized the need for widespread
testing to get a more accurate picture of how many people have
fallen sick and to spot potentially undetected clusters of
"Timely testing is vital to reopen America. Increasing contact
tracing is critical," Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, told the committee. He said the
CDC had created a state-by-state assessment of contact tracing and
said the agency was working with states on surveillance systems to
"We need to rebuild our nation's public-health infrastructure,"
Dr. Redfield said, adding that "it's important to remember we're
not out of the woods yet."
Experts say the level of testing in the U.S. continues to fall
short of what is needed to reopen the country safely. Mr. Trump
said Monday the U.S. is conducting about 300,000 coronavirus tests
a day and is on track to complete 10 million total tests by the end
of the week.
Harvard University's Global Health Institute has estimated the
country needs to be conducting about 900,000 daily tests.
Adm. Giroir, who is also a medical doctor, said Tuesday that he
expects a marked increase in testing capacity in the coming weeks.
By September, he said, the nation should be capable of conducting
40 million to 50 million tests if needed.
The format for Tuesday's hearing was unusual with, Drs. Fauci,
Redfield and Giroir and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner
Stephen Hahn testifying remotely because they were
self-quarantining after coming into contact with a person infected
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) chaired the committee remotely
as he also self-quarantines.
"Vaccines and treatments are the ultimate solutions," Mr.
Alexander said. "But until we have them, all roads back to work and
back to school go through testing. The more tests we conduct, the
better we can identify the small number of those who are sick and
track those who they have had contact with."
Sen. Patty Murray (D. Wash.), the panel's ranking Democrat,
pressed the need for more testing, wearing masks and adhering to
detailed public-health guidance before job sites and schools can
On Monday, Mr. Trump told reporters that people who wanted to
get tested could be tested. "We have the greatest capacity in the
world," he said.
Some Democrats have criticized the administration, saying the
increase in testing and contact tracing hasn't kept pace with the
need because of insufficient federal efforts on either initiative.
Most states are hiring more people to trace and identify people who
have been in contact with someone infected with coronavirus but
many fall short of the numbers recommended by some public-health
New Jersey officials said Tuesday that the state is seeking to
hire between 1,000 and 5,000 people to build up a workforce of
contact tracers, an increase from the current number of about 800
to 900 contact tracers working mainly at the county level.
Retailers in Ohio were permitted to reopen Tuesday with
social-distancing restrictions in place, while many nonessential
Wisconsin businesses were allowed to reopen this week with up to
five customers at a time.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday the state is loosening
restrictions on offices and malls as it ramps up testing capacity
and would give counties the option of relaxing their own
restrictions in line with what the state is allowing.
Virginia's Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday that
jurisdictions in the northern part of the state may delay the first
phase of statewide reopenings set to begin on Friday "to allow
those localities more time to meet the health metrics." The
hard-hit areas around Washington, D.C., could remain under tighter
restrictions until May 28, the governor said.
Neighboring Maryland has a phased reopening plan, starting with
activities considered low risk. On May 6, Republican Gov. Larry
Hogan gave the go-ahead for elective medical procedures and allowed
some outdoor activities, such as golf, tennis and recreational
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday that live-performance
venues and bars will remain closed in the state through the end of
the month. The state had perhaps the most ambitious reopening in
the country, allowing businesses like salons and bowling alleys to
reopen in late April.
In New York, construction, manufacturing and outdoor
recreational facilities may be able to reopen in some upstate
regions as early as Friday. New York City, the heart of the
coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., is expected to take longer to
reopen, officials have said. Broadway theaters will remain closed
until at least early September, the Broadway League said
Next week, Massachusetts's first phase of reopening could begin,
while South Carolina gyms, salons and public pools could be allowed
National parks and recreation areas were also gradually
reopening ahead of the summer months, though some facilities, such
as visitor centers and theaters, will remain closed.
Write to Thomas M. Burton at firstname.lastname@example.org and Stephanie
Armour at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 12, 2020 19:16 ET (23:16 GMT)
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