The US health director’s comments come as Arizona and Florida clamp down on bars and Texas expands hospital ICU capacity amid a surge of infections
New cases of Covid-19 in the US could rise to 100,000 a day if behaviours do not change, infectious-disease expert Anthony Fauci told a senate panel on Tuesday.
Several southern and western states are seeing surging new case numbers, prompting some to put reopening plans on hold.
“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.”
Fauci said he would not be surprised to see new cases rise by 100,000 a day if recent surges do not turn around, up from about 40,000 a day. As for the number of deaths, “it is going to be very disturbing, I guarantee you that”, he said.
Fauci and other witnesses cited indoor gatherings as a major cause of recent spikes, singling out bars in particular. On Monday, Arizona paused operations at bars, gyms and movie theatres. Florida and Texas took steps to rein in bars on Friday, with Florida banning consumption of alcohol in bars and Texas closing them altogether.
Texas governor Greg Abbott said this week the spread of infections had taken a “swift and very dangerous turn”.
“Over just the past few weeks, the daily number of cases have gone from an average of about 2,000, to more than 5,000,” Abbott said. The state was expanding its ICU capacity in hospitals as beds filled up.
New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, former hotspots earlier in the pandemic, added 16 states to their self-quarantine orders for visitors.
Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noted that in addition to the rise in new cases, hospitalisations were up in 12 states. The US has recorded more than 2.6-million Covid-19 cases in total, with more than 126,000 deaths from the virus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Redfield and Fauci appeared before the senate health committee for a hearing on reopening US businesses and returning students to school. Fauci said schools may need to consider online classes or staggered schedules to safely bring students back. The CDC will issue guidance for schools on Tuesday.
Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chair of the committee, opened the hearing with comments on wearing masks, saying the issue should not be as politicised as it is become and that he had asked President Donald Trump to wear a mask to set an example. Vice-President Mike Pence appeared in Texas over the weekend in a mask and spoke about the value of covering your face in protecting against the virus.
Fauci told the panel, “I think we need to emphasise 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.”
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.