- Anthony Fauci, long-time director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the Trump administration's most trusted voices on the pandemic response, warned against prematurely lifting shelter-in-place guidelines in a Senate hearing Tuesday — especially given the lack of a vaccine or proven COVID-19 treatment.
- The U.S. doesn't have the necessary testing and surveillance infrastructure in place to prep for a fall resurgence of the coronavirus, a second wave that's "entirely conceivable and possible," Fauci said. "If some areas, cities, states or what have you, jump over these various checkpoints and prematurely open up ... we will start to see little spikes that may turn into outbreaks."
- HHS testing czar Brett Giroir also predicted the U.S. would be able to test between 40 million and 50 million people per month for COVID-19 by September, mostly in point-of-care tests in hospitals and doctor's offices. That's a significant jump from current testing levels. The White House said this week that more than 9 million coronavirus tests have been completed to date.
The highly-anticipated Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee hearing on Tuesday was the first major congressional hearing on the coronavirus in months. It was also a rare event where key members of the administration's coronavirus task force were able to speak without the president, who is usually by their side at White House briefings.
States have begun to relax social distancing guidelines to give the economy a much-needed jolt as the unemployment rate reaches 15%. As of Tuesday, at least 100 million people can freely travel and frequent businesses, according to a Washington Post tracker. Only eight states remain entirely closed.
President Donald Trump has encouraged states to reopen. However, administration officials offered a less rosy view of U.S. readiness.
"My concern is that states or cities or regions, in attempting — understandably — to get back to some form of normality, will disregard, to a greater or less degree, the checkpoints we've put in our guidelines," Fauci, who's directed NIAID since 1984, said. "There is a real risk you will trigger an outbreak that you’re unable to control, that will set you back on the road to trying to get economic recovery."
Most states have not met the White House's guidelines to meet prior to reopening, including a two-week decrease in new COVID-19 cases and lowering the rate of positive tests. The Trump administration has scrambled to increase the U.S.' testing infrastructure following early missteps that caused a serious delay in testing as the virus gained ground in the country.
Giroir acknowledged building up the infrastructure is a "work in progress" as many states and public labs say there aren't enough tests to meet demand.
On Monday, roughly 394,000 COVID-19 tests were conducted, a new high, according to Johns Hopkins University's tracker, but still far below the administration's testing goals: 3 million a week, or roughly 428,000 per day.
Giroir's 40 million to 50 million figure breaks down to 1.3 million to 1.7 million tests per day by the fall.
Though the numbers seem large, it may not be enough. One analysis from the Harvard Global Institute found the U.S. should be conducting 900,000 tests daily by this Friday to safely reopen the economy.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., called U.S. testing levels "impressive" on Tuesday, but some of his peers, including Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, disagreed.
"I find our testing record nothing to celebrate whatsoever," Romney said. Multiple Democratic senators also noted in the hearing the U.S. is far behind other developed nations in terms of virus response. Countries with more tests per capita than the U.S. include Canada, Germany, Russia, Spain, Switzerland and 20 other nations, according to statistics compiled by Our World in Data.
"The Trump administration's response to this public health emergency so far has been a disaster all on its own," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said. "Delays, missteps have put us far behind where we need to be."
Trump on Monday continued to encourage states to lift shelter-in-place orders as he touted the U.S. testing capacity in a press conference at the White House Rose Garden.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. called the president's stance "infuriating" as public health experts, including Fauci, warn the pandemic is not yet under control.
Murphy on Tuesday also slammed the guidance the Trump administration has released on reopening "criminally vague," asking CDC Director Robert Redfield why more detailed recommendations prepared by agency experts had not been released to the public.
Redfield chalked the delay up to lengthy red tape, noting CDC recommendations should be up on the agency's website "soon."