Trump administration officials said Friday the country is not “defenseless” against the coronavirus, but it will take greater cooperation from the public to beat back the pandemic.
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the nation has developed safeguards and new therapies to save lives, but the public needs to wear masks, maintain physical distancing and wash their hands to keep the virus at bay.
“I am appealing to all Americans to be part of the public health solution. Together, we can turn the tide of this pandemic,” Dr. Redfield told the Subcommittee on the Coronavirus.
Adm. Brett Giroir, the coronavirus-testing czar, said testing capacity is improving every day, but it does not replace personal responsibility, amid widespread fears that some people aren’t following public-health guidance.
“A negative test does not mean you won’t be positive tomorrow,” he told the subcommittee.
Anthony Fauci, a top scientist at the National Institutes of Health, said he is still confident the U.S. could see a vaccine by the end of the year and expressed skepticism about boastful news from abroad.
“I do hope that the Chinese and the Russians are actually testing the vaccine before they’re administering the vaccine to anyone,” he said.
Chairman James Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, said he called the hearing because he’s worried that a lack of centralized planning at the federal level led to a fragmented, flimsy response in the states. He said the U.S. is in the middle of a public health “catastrophe” in which some hospitals have been forced to consider which patients get care and which are “sent home to die.”
“It is clear that the administration’s approach of deferring to the states, sidelining the experts and rushing to reopen has prolonged this virus and led to thousands of preventable deaths,” Mr. Clyburn said.
His Republican counterpart, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, said Mr. Trump issued clear guidelines and advanced the ball on therapeutics and landing a vaccine in record time.
“Critics keep shouting about ‘a plan’ — perhaps they should take some time and read these plans — they are all public, they were all created by experts in their field, and each was created and executed because President Trump approved them,” Mr. Scalise said.
Mr. Clyburn later displayed a chart showing a greater magnitude of transmission in the U.S. than the European Union, saying the disparity is noticeable even though places around the world employed lockdowns.
Dr. Fauci, a key member of the president’s coronavirus task force, tied it the springtime decision to shut down partially and reopen too quickly in some states.
“When [European nations] shut down or locked down or went to shelter in place … they really did it to the tune of 95%-plus,” Dr. Fauci said. “Even though we shut down, even though it created a great deal of difficulty, we only functionally shut down 50%.”
While the U.S. plateaued at about 20,000 cases per day, European nations came down to a lower baseline.
As the country reopened, it saw a surge in some states across the South and West.
The White House put out a list of benchmarks that should be met before governors moved forward, but some states didn’t tick off all the boxes.
“Some were followed very carefully, and some were not,” Dr. Fauci told Mr. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat. “That led to the surging that you’re showing on your chart there.”
Mr. Trump fumed over Mr. Clyburn’s comparison on Twitter, arguing the U.S. is uncovering more cases because of its testing regime.
“Somebody please tell Congressman Clyburn, who doesn’t have a clue, that the chart he put up indicating more CASES for the U.S. than Europe, is because we do MUCH MORE testing than any other country in the World. If we had no testing, or bad testing, we would show very few CASES,” Mr. Trump wrote.
Under GOP questioning, Dr. Fauci said he believes Mr. Trump’s decision to restrict travel from China at the start of February and from Europe in mid-March saved lives.
Dr. Fauci tried not to get pulled into a debate over mandated restrictions, as Rep. Jim Jordan asked whether the government should clamp down on street protests. He said states imposed limits on church services.
The scientist said any mass gathering comes with increased risk.
“I don’t judge one crowd versus another crowd,” Dr. Fauci said.
Mr. Jordan, Ohio Republican, said the scientist has commented on plenty of things, but Dr. Fauci said it wasn’t up to him to decide who should be arrested or barred from certain activities.
“I’m not going to opine on limiting anything,” Dr. Fauci said. “I’m telling you what it is, the danger … you should stay away from crowds, no matter where the crowds are.”
Dr. Fauci also cast doubt on a Henry Ford Health System study that found hydroxychloroquine could help COVID-19 patients survive. The malaria drug has been promoted by Mr. Trump as a treatment for the disease.
“That study is a flawed study,” Dr. Fauci said. “You can peer-review something that is a flawed study.”
The doctor said it was an observational study in which patients who received the drug also received steroids, which have shown some promise against the virus.
Dr. Fauci said if he saw a randomized, placebo-controlled trial that found hydroxychloroquine to be effective, he would “be the first one to admit it and promote it.”
“I just have to go with the data,” he said. “I don’t have any horse in the game one way or the other.”
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