Dr. Anthony Fauci warned senators on Tuesday that “the consequences could be really serious” if the U.S. economy is reopened too quickly.
Fauci, head of the National Institutes of Health, appeared before the Senate Health, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday along with Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn, Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Adm. Brett Giroir, the coronavirus “testing czar” at the Department of Health and Human Services.
The panel answered questions remotely as at least three of the four are in some level of self-quarantine. They fielded questions on treatments, vaccines, tracing and testing.
Fauci was asked if the number of those diagnosed with the virus could flare up if state economies open back up too quickly.
“There is no doubt, even under the best of circumstances, when you pull back on mitigation you will see some cases appear,” Fauci said.
The hearing was mostly tame, though partisan, with Democrats pointing out what they say is a poor handling of the pandemic by President Donald Trump.
One exchange, between Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Fauci, turned pointed.
Paul suggested that Fauci was not the "end-all” on the virus and that while his expertise should be considered, other expert opinions should be considered as well.
Fauci shot back, saying he had never suggested he was the “end-all” as far as the virus is concerned.
The hearing ends
1:22 p.m. ET May 12, 2020: Murray sums up hopeful next steps in fighting the virus.
Alexander says he wants to clarify an answer Fauci gave to one of his questions about school reopening.
Alexander said that he doesn’t believe that Fauci meant that it was unlikely that children would not go back to school in the fall, but that it would depend on the situation in the city where the school is located.
Fauci agreed. He said it would depend on the situation on the ground where the school is located.
Alexander reiterated the role of the federal government and the states’ responsibility when it comes to testing and decisions about reopening state economies. It is the state that should be driving those decisions, Alexander said.
He has adjourned the hearing.
What about China? What about Trump
1:12 p.m. ET May 12, 2020: Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Georgia, asks Redfield about China’s role as the virus emerged. She asks Redfield for a timeline of the CDC’s relationship with its Chinese counterpart.
Redfield says he spoke to his counterpart in China about the virus on Jan. 3. He said the scientific effort with China was a good one.
Loeffler asks how they get along with Trump.
Fauci says there is no confrontational relationship between him and Trump. Redfield echoes what Fauci says. Hahn says the same as does Giroir.
Romney takes swipe at celebrating testing
12:50 p.m. ET May 12, 2020: Romney attacks Adm. Giroir saying the U.S. “treaded water” at the beginning of the pandemic, and that when it comes to testing, “Our test numbers are nothing to celebrate."
Romney then asks Fauci if President Trump or President Barack Obama were responsible for the fact we do not have a vaccine yet?
Fauci said no, that neither is responsible for the fact there is no vaccine now.
Protect older people, Fauci says
12:40 p.m. ET May 12, 2020: Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, says by the end of May, his state will have tested 100% of nursing home workers and, in addition, South Carolina hospitals are staffed and have the equipment they feel they need to care for any virus patients.
He points out that most vulnerable to a bad outcome from COVID-19 are older people.
Scott goes on to say his state has flattened the curve of cases so as not to exceed hospital capacity or resources but in the meantime, he says, businesses have closed and people have fallen into despair.
Scott asks Fauci what else they could do to get the state reopened.
Fauci praises him for the state’s efforts, then suggests they spend all resources they need to protect older citizens.
Fauci doesn’t see 200,000 new cases by June
12:07 p.m. ET May 12, 2020: In response to a question from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts:
Will schools open soon?
12:01 p.m. ET May 12, 2020: Bill Cassady, R-Louisiana, asks Fauci about reopening schools.
Fauci says he cannot give an answer to schools opening other than the virus is spreading differently in different places so schools may open in some places but not others.
Murphy asks if they are being paid
11:53 p.m. ET May 12, 2020: Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, asks if the doctors are drawing a salary during the quarantine. Hahn and Fauci answer. Both say they are working during their quarantine and being paid.
Murphy points out that many people are not getting a salary.
He says Trump is working to undermine the standards set by the White House Coronavirus Task Force. He calls that guidance “criminally vague.”
He asks if the plan has now been shelved since states are opening without meeting the standards the public does now about.
Redfield says the guidances have gone through review by other agencies and are now coming back to the task force for consideration.
Collins asks about dentists, remdesivir
11:44 a.m. ET May 12, 2020: Susan Collins, R-Maine, says she has heard from dentists across her state. Maine is only one of three states that have not allowed dentists to return to their practice or have a plan that allows them to reopen soon.
Redfield says nationwide standards for dental care are being worked on.
Collins asked about remdesivir allocations – who gets the drug that has shown some promise in helping COVID patients, she asks.
Hahn says it will depend on where the outbreaks are.
Rand Paul asks about antibodies
11:29 a.m. ET May 12, 2020: Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, who is a doctor, asks if Fauci believes people who have gotten the virus have developed immunity against the virus.
Fauci says he believes you develop immunity if you get the virus and recover, but studies need to be done to see how long the immunity lasts.
Paul then argues that “we have had a rather benign course of the virus in most of the country" minus New England.
He says “we should look at the mortality of children” who get the virus and that should factor into when the schools should reopen.
“We don’t know everything about this virus, and we really better be very careful, particularly when it comes to children, because the more and more we learn, we’re seeing things about what this virus can do that we didn’t see from the studies in China or in Europe,” Fauci said.
Paul says, “With respect, Dr. Fauci, you are not the end-all" on the virus and whether we should send children back to school.
Fauci asks to respond, then tells Paul he has never put himself up as someone who knows everything about the virus, but that he is a scientist, a doctor and a public health official.
Sanders asks about the cost of the vaccine
11:10 a.m. ET May 12, 2020: Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, says Trump has “from day one downplayed the dangers from the pandemic, fired members of the government and cut funding from the World Health Organization.
He asks Fauci if he suspects the number of deaths from coronavirus in the U.S. is higher than is being reported. Fauci said there are likely people who died from the virus before getting to a hospital in the early days of the pandemic and were not counted as dying from COVID-19.
“The number is almost certainly higher,” Fauci said.
Sanders asks if the virus will come back in the fall and possibly be worse.
Fauci says it is likely the virus will have a second wave in the fall, but he hopes and expects “we will be able to deal with it very effectively.”
“The number is almost certainly higher,” Fauci said.
Sanders asks Hahn if everyone will get the vaccine for free once it is developed. Hahn says yes, he hopes so. Sanders interrupts asking if he is guaranteeing that the vaccine will be free. Hahn says the FDA is not responsible for making sure a drug is free to the public.
Murray doubles down on Trump again
10:55 a.m. ET May 12, 2020: Sen. Murray tells Fauci specific goals for testing are needed, not “PR goals,” she says, referring to Trump’s press conference on Monday.
She asks Fauci about reopening the country and if it is too soon. Fauci said it depends on the area, but that “The consequences could be really serious,” if areas are reopened too soon.
The questioning begins
10:50 a.m. ET May 12, 2020: Fauci is asked by Alexander about students returning to school in the fall.
Fauci says with no vaccine, there is no guarantee students will be safe. He says convalescent plasma may be the best bet to treat someone who has been infected.
“I would have to be very realistic...in this case the idea of having treatments available or a vaccine to facilitate the re-entry of students would be a bit of a bridge too far," Fauci said.
Convalescent plasma is a treatment where antibodies from the plasma of those who have had the disease are used to help others to fight the virus.
Adm. Giroir says testing is an option for school in August or September, but we would need a lot more testing by then.
Redfield says testing will be vital as will social distancing.
Redfield assures CDC support
10:35 a.m. ET May 12, 2020: Redfield talks testing. He explains what the CDC is doing towards contact testing. He says states will hire and train people to conduct contact testing and the CDC will offer support in that training.
The CDC will help in establishing a strong surveillance system to track the virus, Redfield says.
He thanks the American people for doing their part in stopping the spread of the disease.
“We are not out of the woods yet," he says.
Fauci talks about drugs and vaccines
10:30 a.m. ET May 12, 2020: Fauci says there are eight COVID-19 vaccines in testing now and, he hopes, more than one will be effective against the virus.
Fauci says clinical trials are already being done and the next phases of testing will begin very soon.
“If we are successful, we hope to know that (a drug can be effective) by late fall or early winter,” he said.
He did not mention reopening the country or a fear of doing that too soon.
Dr. Fauci is testifying now
10:29 a.m. ET May 12, 2020: Fauci is speaking first. He is reading his testimony. Each of the four men will have five minutes to give their testimony.
Murray is speaking
10:19 a.m. ET May 12, 2020: Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, immediately goes after Trump, saying he does not tell the truth and promoted dangerous treatments.
She says the president has ignored recommendations and that “we are nowhere near being ready to reopen.”
She says she cannot understand why there is no national plan for testing.
Alexander: No blame game
10:13 a.m. ET May 12, 2020: Alexander warns against “finger-pointing.” He says no one in the world knew what was coming from the pandemic early on.
He reads a piece from The New York Times published in early March that says the U.S. was well prepared for a virus.
He outlines policies and practices that were in place for a pandemic, then says that even with all of the preparation, we still underestimated COVID-19.
The hearing has started
10:05 a.m. ET May 12, 2020: Sen. Alexander has begun the hearing. He is conducting it from his home in Tennessee. He is talking about the availability of testing. He says there are lots of tests available, but much more is needed.
The hearing will begin soon
10 a.m. ET May 12, 2020: The hearing will begin soon as all the parties are trying to get signed in to the hearing.
What Fauci will say
9:50 a.m. ET May 12, 2020: Fauci plans to tell the Senate health committee about the “danger of trying to open the country prematurely,” according to an email he sent to The New York Times on Monday.
“If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to: ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country,” Fauci wrote. “This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.”
Fauci was referring to a White House plan that lays out guidelines for a three-phase reopening of the country’s economy.
Who is testifying?
9:40 a.m. ET May 12, 2020: In addition to Dr. Fauci, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Admiral Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Giroir, who is also a physician, is in charge of the U.S. COVID-19 testing program.
Let’s get started
9:30 a.m. ET May 12, 2020: Good morning! Live updates from the Senate hearing on reopening the economy are beginning. The hearing is set to start at 10 a.m. ET. Dr. Anthony Fauci is one of four men who will testify today.