Anthony Fauci warns of 'disturbing surge' in Covid-19 cases, contradicts Trump saying US will increase testing
The NIAID chief said next few weeks will be critical in addressing the increase in cases and that the federal government will expand testing
America's top health expert Dr Anthony Fauci has warned that the US is seeing a "disturbing surge" in coronavirus cases in some states as they open in the absence of adequate plans for testing and tracing the contacts of those infected. He added that the next few weeks are going to be critical to address the spike.
While testifying before a House committee on the US response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said the coronavirus threat right now is a "mixed bag" in the US, which is a large, heterogeneous country with major differences. He credited the New York metropolitan area for bringing down the number of positive cases and reopening its economy carefully but said other parts of the country are seeing a spike. "Right now, the New York metropolitan area, which has been hit extraordinarily hard, has done very well in bringing the cases down and using the guidelines that we have very carefully put together in a stepwise fashion to try and carefully reopen their city and their state. However, in other areas of the country, we’re now seeing a disturbing surge of infections. One of the things is an increase in community spread. And that’s something that I'm really quite concerned about," said the NIAID chief.
Dr Fauci said the US has been hit badly with over 120,000 deaths and two-and-a-half-million infections. "A couple of days ago, there were 30,000 new infections. That’s very troublesome to me. The way you address that, and I’ve said this over and over again, is you have to have the manpower, the system, the testing, to identify, isolate, and contact trace in an effective way, so that when you see those increases, you can understand where they’re coming from and you can do something about them," he said.
According to the expert, the next couple of weeks "are going to be critical" in the country’s ability to address surges in cases that are being witnessed in Florida, Texas, Arizona and other states. "They’re not the only ones that are having difficulty. Bottom line, it’s a mixed bag, some good, and some now we have a problem with," he added. He stressed that the US is still in the middle of the first wave. "So before you start talking about what a second wave is, what we’d like to do is to get this outbreak under control over the next couple of months. That when you do have the inevitable situation of cases appearing as you try to gradually reopen the country, which we’re all trying to do to varying degrees, that if you get a level that’s very low when you get new cases, you can contain. And contain means identify, isolate, and contact trace. Rather than have such a high level that when you get increases, you have to mitigate right from the beginning," he explained.
When questioned whether he believes institutional racism has contributed to the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on African Americans, Dr Fauci said yes. "Well, obviously, the African-American community has suffered from racism for a very, very long period of time. And I cannot imagine that that has not contributed to the conditions that they find themselves in, economically and otherwise. So the answer, Congressmen, is yes," he said.
The number of new daily infections is increasing in several US states such as Arizona, Nevada, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Tennessee, Texas and Utah, among others. As of June 24, about 2,346,950 Covid-19 cases have been reported from across the US and more than 121,220 have died in the pandemic.
US will do more testing
Dr Fauci also said that the federal government will expand testing, not slow it down as President Donald Trump has recently suggested. The other experts who also testified said that they were never told by Trump to slow down testing. This includes Dr Robert Redfield, Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Admiral Brett P Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health, US Department of Health and Human Services; and Dr Stephen, Commissioner of Food and Drugs, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
During a rally, Trump had said: "Testing is a double-edged sword. When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people. You’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, slow the testing down, please." The White House subsequently said that the president's comment about slowing testing was "in jest". But on Tuesday the president appeared to contradict that, telling reporters: "I don't kid." Trump also tweeted, "Cases are going up in the U.S. because we are testing far more than any other country, and ever-expanding. With smaller testing, we would show fewer cases."
Dr Fauci said to his knowledge, "none of us have ever been told to slow down on testing". "That just is a fact. In fact, we will be doing more testing. Not only testing to specifically identify people, isolate and contact trace but also much more surveillance, if you want to get your arms around and understand exactly what’s going on in community spread. So it’s the opposite. We’re going to be doing more testing, not less," he stressed
Later at the hearing, Fauci said that there are additional infections that are responsible for increases in some states. "Because when you get an increase in the percentage of your tests that are positive, that's an indication that you do have additional infections. So one of the issues that we’ve spoken about, that’s very clear, is that when you have those kinds of increases, you must implement on the ground as effectively as possible. The manpower, the system, the tests to do identification, isolation, and contact tracing to try and blunt that surge of cases in the two states that you’re speaking of," he emphasized. Dr Fauci said that if those efforts are not successful, "then you have the danger of having a gradual insidious increase in community spread, which will be much more difficult to contain as the community spread amplifies itself."
What else did experts say?
Dr Redfield reiterated that the US will continue to enhance testing, timely access to testing, as well as surveillance. "It’s really important that we continue to take this time to continue to accelerate our capacity to diagnose, obviously, readily available timely test results, build that capacity for isolation contact tracing and self-quarantine. That’s fundamental," he said.
The expert called on Americans to remain vigilant and follow social distancing interventions, particularly face covering, six-feet distancing and hand washing. "This pandemic is the greatest public health crisis our nation and our world have confronted in more than a century. Several communities are seeing increased cases, driven by multiple factors, including increased testing outbreaks and evidence of community transmission. Right now, the most powerful weapon against this disease is social distancing, face coverings and hand hygiene. These actions will help us contain transmission along with readily available testing, comprehensive timely contact tracing, timely isolation of known cases, and self-quarantine to break the chains of transmission,” he said.
Dr Redfield said that this fall, before the seasonal circulation of influenza, Americans need to be prepared and to embrace flu vaccination "with confidence for yourself, your families, and the communities". "This single act will save lives," he added.
Dr Fauci and Dr Redfield also said that decisions on whether to reopen schools will be made on a local level. "I anticipate that the states will begin to open up higher education and K-12. It’s going to be on a jurisdiction to jurisdiction decision. The CDC will be issuing additional guidance on this topic in the days ahead," said Dr Redfield. Dr Fauci noted that “you don’t want to make one-size-fits-all for the US" when it comes to reopening schools, but "tailor it to the degree of viral dynamics in the particular location that you’re talking about". "We have different regions, different states, different cities, towns, and counties. So some counties may have such a low level of infection that schools can open in a way that’s exactly like normal. Others may be in a situation where it isn’t really bad where you want to close the school, but you might want to make some modifications, alterations of scheduling. So it’s up to the local officials to evaluate where you are in the particular region, what the recommendations that we very carefully put out about the guidance of opening schools (are)," he explained.