The top US infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci testified before the Senate on the government’s coronavirus efforts on Tuesday, as cases continue to soar and states around the country reverse their reopening efforts.
He did so after the White House insisted the outbreak had been reduced to “embers” but after the principal deputy director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr Anne Schuchat, insisted: “This is really the beginning.”
“What we hope is that we can take it seriously and slow the transmission,” Schuchat told the Journal of the American Medical Association, adding: “We have way too much virus across the country for that right now, so it’s very discouraging.
Schuchat added that there was “a lot of wishful thinking around the country” that the pandemic would be over by the summer.
“We are not even beginning to be over this,” Schuchat said. “There are a lot of worrisome factors about the last week or so.
“We’re not in the situation of New Zealand or Singapore or Korea, where a new case is rapidly identified and all the contacts are traced and people are isolated who are sick and people who are exposed are quarantined and they can keep things under control.”
On Capitol Hill, Fauci and other senior advisers were to offer an update to the health committee on progress in allowing Americans to return to work and school. Congress is reportedly weighing sending a second round of stimulus checks to Americans, with the US firmly in a recession and unemployment claims historically high.
The US represents 4% of the world’s population but accounts for some 25% of all cases and deaths from Covid-19.
The US has recorded more than 2.5m confirmed cases, with some states seeing record rises. On Monday the governor of Arizona ordered bars, movie theaters, gyms and water parks to shut down for a month, weeks after reopening.
Texas, Florida and California, all seeing rises in Covid-19 cases, have rolled back reopening efforts. Oregon and Kansas have ordered people to wear masks in public.
New daily cases are rising in 38 states, according to NPR’s pandemic tracker, but the White House continues its attempts to downplay the severity of Covid-19. At a briefing on Monday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany ignored the surge.
“The people who are being infected tend to be those – as Vice-President Pence has noted – half of those testing positive are under the age of 35. This means we’re catching people in their communities,” she said.
She added: “We’re aware that there are embers that need to be put out.”
Fauci said on Sunday the US was unlikely to achieve herd immunity to the coronavirus even with a vaccine, given a third of Americans say they would not receive it.
“There is a general anti-science, anti-authority, anti-vaccine feeling among some people in this country – an alarmingly large percentage of people, relatively speaking,” Fauci said, adding that the government has “a lot of work to do” to educate people about vaccines.
Even states where the rate of new infections has decreased are rethinking plans to allow businesses to reopen. New Jersey has postponed plans to allow indoor dining, while the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, said he may reverse plans to allow restaurants and bars to reopen.
Broadway theaters will remain closed until January 2021, an industry group said on Monday. Theaters had planned to reopen in September.
People in the US are expected to be barred from non-essential travel to the European Union when it releases a “safe list” of countries on Tuesday. Russia and Brazil, each experiencing rising coronavirus cases, are among the other countries to be excluded from the list.