WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a central figure in the government’s response to the coronavirus, plans to deliver a stark warning to the Senate on Tuesday: Americans would experience “needless suffering and death” if the country opens up prematurely.
Fauci, who has emerged as perhaps the nation’s most respected voice during the coronavirus crisis, is one of four top government doctors scheduled to testify remotely at a high-profile — and highly unusual — hearing Tuesday before the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He made his comments in an e-mail message late Monday night.
Tuesday’s hearing will be his first appearance before Congress since President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency on March 13, and a chance for him to address lawmakers and the public without Trump by his side. He is currently in a “modified quarantine,” he has said, after a “low risk” exposure to someone infected with the virus.
He will testify remotely Tuesday. In the email, he laid out what he intends to say.
“The major message that I wish to convey to the Senate HLP committee tomorrow is the danger of trying to open the country prematurely,” he wrote. “If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to: ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country. 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 three-phase White House plan, Opening Up America Again, that lays out guidelines for state officials considering reopening their economies. Among its recommendations: states should have a “downward trajectory of positive tests” or a “downward trajectory of documented cases” of coronavirus over two weeks, while conducting robust contact tracing and “sentinel surveillance” testing of asymptomatic people in vulnerable populations, such as nursing homes.
But many states are reopening without meeting those guidelines, which is raising concerns among public health experts like Fauci considerable pause. In an analysis published last week, The New York Times found that more than half of states easing restrictions, case counts are trending upward, positive test results are rising, or both.
Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been largely out of public view for the past two weeks, ever since Trump abandoned his daily briefings with his coronavirus task force.
His return to the Capitol, though virtual, is going to be must-watch TV in Washington — one of the strangest high-stakes hearings in recent memory.
He will appear alongside Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Adm. Brett P. Giroir, the assistant secretary for health. Redfield and Hahn are also in self-quarantine after exposure to the virus, as is the chairman of the committee, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.