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Fauci testifies before Congress on state of coronavirus pandemic

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 5 days ago Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY
Anthony S. Fauci et al. sitting at a table: Fauci contradicts Trump COVID-19 claims: 'We're going to be doing more testing, not less' © Provided by USA TODAY Fauci contradicts Trump COVID-19 claims: 'We're going to be doing more testing, not less'

WASHINGTON – Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., opened a hearing Tuesday on the state of the coronavirus pandemic by re-upping his past recommendation that President Donald Trump wear a mask to reduce the political divide on that health recommendation.

“The president has plenty of admirers,” Alexander said. “They would follow his lead.”

Health officials have been emphasizing the need for mask wearing as states loosen their social distancing restrictions and as infections have surged in many areas.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert at the National Institutes of Health, and the other witnesses entered the hearing room wearing masks. They were spaced six feet apart. The number of reporters let into the room was limited and there was no room for a general audience.

Alexander noted that the Capitol Hill physician said masks could be taken off when talking into the microphone if the speaker was sitting six feet away from others, as he was doing.

“That’s why my mask is off right now,” he said. “But like many other senators, when I’m walking the hallways or on the Senate floor, I’m wearing a mask.”

Alexander lamented that “this simple life-saving practice has become part of the political debate that says this, 'If you're for Trump you don't wear a mask. If you're against Trump, you do.’”

“That's why I've suggested that the president, occasionally wear a mask, even though in most cases, it's not necessary for him to do so,” he said.

Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee, tore into Trump in her opening comments.

“We’ve seen a leadership crisis raging in the White House as the president proves time after time he cares less about how this pandemic is impacting families and communities and more about how it makes him look," she said.

The hearing is being held two days after Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar warned that the "window is closing" for the United States to get the situation under control.

Fauci has repeatedly urged states to follow federal guidelines for reopening, including in his last appearance before the Senate health committee when he warned in May that failure to do so would lead to "some suffering and death" that could be avoided.

Today, half the country is struggling to manage rising COVID-19 cases.

A number of states paused their reopening plans last week as the U.S. set records for the number of new cases in one day. Texas closed bars and limited restaurant capacity, while Florida banned drinking at bars.  

Experts say states that don’t manage their case counts risk overwhelming the health care system again and infecting neighboring states that have already flattened the curve. 

Memory loss, gnarled fingers, panic: COVID-19 didn't kill these Americans, but many might never be the same

The White House has often presented a rosier picture of the situation than what health officials describe.

Asked Monday about Azar's warning, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president is encouraged that there's been a decline in fatality rates and an increase in effective treatments.

"These things make us uniquely equipped to handle the increase in cases that we’ve seen," McEnany said.

The more than 125,000 deaths in the United States from COVID-19 represent approximately 25% of the world's fatalities. 

Some experts predict the U.S. death toll to hit nearly 180,000 by Oct. 1.

Testifying before a House panel last week, Fauci said these two weeks are "critical" in how the country addresses the surge in states like Florida, Texas and Arizona.

He attributed the "disturbing surge of infections" to a combination of factors, including an increase in person-to-person transmission, or community spread. 

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As he was at last week's hearing, Fauci will be joined Tuesday by Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention; Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; and Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health for Health and Human Services.

More: More than 500,000 people worldwide have now died from the coronavirus

Five months in: A timeline of how COVID-19 has unfolded in the US

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fauci to testify before Congress on state of coronavirus pandemic


Video: Dr. Fauci testifies that no one told virus task force to do less testing, contrasting Trump's rally comments (MSNBC)

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