Dr. Anthony Fauci offers live, online testimony to Senate health committee


The White House (Flickr)

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Taskforce, addresses his remarks at a coronavirus update briefing Monday, March 16, 2020

Ivana Venema-Nunez, Reporter

Tuesday, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a medical expert for the White House coronavirus task force, delivered testimony to a Senate health committee via a live video feed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn and President Trumps’ coronavirus testing advisor Adm. Brett Giroir also appeared at Tuesday’s hearing and according to a Washington Posts’ article published on Tuesday, there are six takeaways from the hearing.

 1.  Fauci has warned strongly against re-opening the economy and has had a very different tone about concerns regarding some cities opening their economies too early. 

“What I’ve expressed then and again is my concern that if some areas, cities, states or what have you jump over those various checkpoints and prematurely open up without having the capability of being able to respond effectively and efficiently — my concern is that we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks.”

2.  Because of areas not testing enough for COVID-19 Fauci says the death toll is ‘almost certainly’ higher than known.

“I’m not sure, Senator Sanders, if it’s going to be 50 percent higher,” Fauci said to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who asked about that number. “But most of us feel that the number of deaths are likely higher than that number, because given the situation, particularly in New York City, when they were really strapped with a very serious challenge to their health-care system, that there may have been people who died at home … who are not counted as it, because they never really got to the hospital.”

“So in direct answer to your question, I think you are correct that the number is likely higher. I don’t know exactly what percent higher, but almost certainly it’s higher,” Fauci added.

3.  Talks about when we might see the guidelines for reopening from the CDC, which is noted as delayed, even as  some states are pressing forward to reopen even without them, according to the article published by the Washington Post.

Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn) pressed Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on the issue.

“The guidances that you’ve talked about have gone through that interagency review. Their comments … have come back to CDC,” Redfield said. “And I anticipate they’ll go back up into the task force for final review.”

Pressed on a timeline, Redfield responded, “I do anticipate this broader guidance, though, to be posted on the CDC website soon.”

“‘Soon’ isn’t terribly helpful,” Murphy responded.

4.  Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky), who tested positive for the coronavirus engaged in a discussion with Fauci, where Paul argued that Fauci wasn’t the “end-all” when it comes to how to respond to the coronavirus outbreak and in his opinion, it made little sense to keep schools closed given the much lower fatality rate for children.

“So I think we ought to have a little bit of humility in our belief that we know what’s best for the economy,” Paul said. “And as much as I respect you, Dr. Fauci, I don’t think you’re the end-all. I don’t think you’re the one person that gets to make a decision. We can listen to your advice, but there are people on the other side saying there’s not going to be a surge and that we can safely open the economy and the facts will bear this out.”

Fauci responded by saying he was just providing medical advice.

“I have never made myself out to be the end-all and only voice in this,” Fauci said.

Fauci added “that you use the word we should be humble about what we don’t know. And I think that falls under the fact that 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 — for example, right now children presenting with COVID-19 who actually have a very strange inflammatory syndrome, very similar to Kawasaki syndrome. I think we better be careful if we are not cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects.”

5.  The committee’s GOP chairman, Lamar Alexander (R-TN), talked about the success of the federal response, but also made a point of saying that testing is still far from sufficient according to the WP article. 

“What our country has done so far on testing is impressive but not nearly enough,” Alexander said, adding that places such as the University of Tennessee need to have vastly expanded testing to be able to reopen when the school year is scheduled to begin in August.

He repeated later, “What our country has done so far in testing is impressive but not nearly enough.”

Alexander also advised for widespread screening of schools and places of work to help identify those who are sick, and therefore trace down those who are exposed. “And that, in turn, should help persuade the rest of us to go back to school and back to work,” he said.

Another Republican, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called the testing in the United States “nothing to celebrate whatsoever” according to the WP article and criticized the comparison of the testing done in the United States with the testing done in South Korea as favorable. 

“Yesterday, you celebrated that we had done more tests and more tests per capita even than South Korea,” Romney said to Giroir. “But you ignored the fact that they accomplished theirs at the beginning of the outbreak while we treaded water during February and March.”

6.  Alexander asked Fauci directly whether there will be treatments or a vaccine available to ensure universities can open in the fall term.  Fauci answered that it would be “a bridge too far.”

Fauci clarified later that he didn’t necessarily say schools couldn’t reopen, but his skepticism is notable and suggests that treatments may not be available any time soon.