Pinpointing indoor gatherings, particularly bar scenes with lines out the door and patrons standing shoulder to shoulder, Fauci said new cases of COVID-19 could rise to 100,000 a day, up from the current level of about 40,000.
Several southern and western states are seeing surging new case numbers, prompting some to put reopening plans on hold. Hospitalizations have increased in 12 states, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield told members of the Senate health committee. Florida’s Miami-Dade County reported its highest numbers of hospitalizations, intensive-care patients and ventilator use in at least two months. In Houston, ICUs hit 97% of normal capacity on Tuesday.
“The numbers speak for themselves. I’m very concerned. I’m not satisfied with what’s going on because we’re going in the wrong direction,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said. “Clearly we are not in total control right now.”
He declined to estimate the number of potential deaths from the virus but said, “It is going to be very disturbing, I guarantee you that.”
The key is for the public to stop what Fauci called “an all-or-nothing phenomenon,” meaning either a state is locked down or people are in bars without masks on.
“I think we need to emphasize the responsibility we have as individuals and as part of a societal effort to end the epidemic and we all have to play a part in that.”
On Monday, Arizona paused operations at bars, gyms and movie theaters. Florida and Texas took steps to rein in bars on Friday, with Florida banning consumption of alcohol in bars and Texas closing them altogether. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, former hot spots earlier in the pandemic, added 16 states to their self-quarantine orders for visitors.
Redfield said that companies also need to insist on social distancing and masks. American Airlines Group Inc.’s announcement on Friday that it would resume selling flights to capacity on July 1 rather than capping passengers to keep them socially distanced caused “substantial disappointment” among public health officials, he said.
Back to School?
The U.S. has recorded more than 2.6 million cases in total, with more than 126,000 deaths from the virus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
As for returning students to school, Fauci said institutions may need to consider online classes or staggered schedules to safely bring students back. While children appear to respond less severely to COVID-19 than adults, it’s still unclear whether they could become vectors to spread the virus to teachers and family, something health agencies are studying and hope to have more data on, he said.
Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the committee, opened the hearing by saying that wearing masks shouldn’t be a political statement. He spoke about needing to self-quarantine after a member of his staff was diagnosed with the virus and said the Senate physician credited the staffer’s mask with protecting Alexander from infection.
“Unfortunately this simple lifesaving practice has become part of a political debate that says: If you’re for Trump, you don’t wear a mask. If you’re against Trump, you do,” Alexander said.
At a hearing across Capitol Hill before the House Financial Services Committee, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the economy is “entering a new phase” after the shut-downs in March and April.
A full recovery is “unlikely” until people are confident that the virus is contained and that it’s safe to return to normal economic activity, Powell said.
Several drugmakers are racing to complete clinical trials of vaccine candidates, with some expecting to wrap up in months studies that under previous circumstances have tended to take years. The Food and Drug Administration laid out standards for approving an inoculation, saying any candidate would have to be at least 50% more effective than a placebo.
Fauci said that he’s “aspirationally hopeful” that a vaccine for COVID-19 will be ready in early 2021, though he cautioned that there’s no guarantee that a safe vaccine will be developed.
Some health experts have expressed worry that FDA will rush to approve a vaccine before enough is known about safety or efficacy but the agency sought to allay those fears with the guidance.
“The American people should know that we have not lost sight of our responsibility to maintain our regulatory independence and ensure that our decisions related to all medical products, including those related to COVID-19 vaccines, are based on sound science and the available data,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn told the panel.