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Fauci to warn U.S. Senate of deadly COVID-19 risks as country looks to reopen

Top U.S. health authorities will testify on Tuesday to a Senate committee looking into plans for reopening the nation’s businesses, schools and other sectors of the economy closed because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, as experts recommend doing so cautiously.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci plans to warn against the risks of reopening the economy too soon, saying states that forge ahead without meeting administration guidelines for declining cases first will risk lives and economic recovery, the New York Times reported.

“If we skip over the checkpoints … we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country,” Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told the news outlet. “This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.”

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, Assistant Secretary of Health Brett Giroir and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn are also scheduled to testify before the panel.

Each of the witnesses will testify remotely at Tuesday’s hearing, according to a committee aide. The virus is shaking the nation’s capital, with two known cases of infection emerging inside the White House and leading top U.S. health officials to isolate themselves as a precaution.

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Fauci, Redfield and Hahn have been taking self-quarantine steps after announcements they had come into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus, which causes the highly contagious respiratory disease COVID-19.

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander is also self-quarantining in his home state of Tennessee for 14 days after a member of his staff tested positive. He will chair the hearing virtually, his office said on Sunday.

The shuttering of businesses to combat the spread of the coronavirus has led to mass layoffs of workers, sparking the greatest economic disruption to the United States since the Great Depression nearly a century ago.

Republican President Donald Trump, who previously made the strength of the economy central to his pitch for his November re-election bid, has encouraged states to reopen businesses that had been deemed non-essential amid the pandemic.

So far, his administration has largely left it to states to decide whether and how to reopen. State governors are taking varying approaches, with a growing number relaxing tough restrictions enacted to slow the outbreak, even as opinion polls show most Americans are concerned about reopening too fast.

But Trump and his task force coordinating Washington’s response to the coronavirus have faced questions on how U.S. workers will be kept safe during reopening, especially after two staffers working within the White House tested positive for the virus.

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