Testimony before the House select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis, which is looking into the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic, was highly partisan. Republican members defended the approach advanced by the White House, and Democrats tore into it, saying that there still is no national strategy and that the death toll is soaring as a result.
With about 4.5 million Americans infected with the novel coronavirus and about 150,000 dead — a toll that grows by 1,000 people or more every day — tempers flared as the health officials found themselves in the middle of heated debates over the efficacy of a controversial drug, the wisdom of reopening schools and ways to prevent the virus from racing through the country.
Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s leading expert on infectious diseases, told the panel that a “diversity of response” from states had hampered efforts to bring down the number of new infections. In contrast, he said, many European nations went into near-total lockdowns.
“When they shut down or locked down or went to shelter in place — however you want to describe it — they really did it to the tune of about 95 percent plus of the country,” Fauci said of European nations, answering a question posed by the panel’s chair, Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.)
The Trump administration decided to leave state and local officials to determine what kind of restrictions to impose, with mixed results.
“When you actually look at what we did, even though we shut down, even though it created a great deal of difficulty, we really functionally shut down only about 50 percent in the sense of the totality of the country,” Fauci said.
President Trump apparently was watching the exchange on television and within a few minutes chided the committee chairman in a tweet that repeated the widely discredited assertion that the U.S. caseload is going up only because testing has increased.
“Somebody please tell Congressman Clyburn, who doesn’t have a clue, that the chart he put up indicating more CASES for the U.S. than Europe, is because we do MUCH MORE testing than any other country in the World,” Trump tweeted as the hearing was going on.
The United States administers 700,000 to 900,000 tests a day, a volume health experts say is insufficient for containing the virus.
Brett P. Giroir, the federal health official overseeing coronavirus testing, touted the Trump administration’s efforts but added, “We cannot test our way out of this or any other pandemic.”
Giroir acknowledged that getting results back to all patients within two to three days is not possible now, though he said that 75 percent of test results come within five days. Wait times have also stretched to a week or more in some places, effectively rendering tests useless in slowing transmission.
A consensus is emerging that a first wave of the disease is not over. Many places around the world that fought back coronavirus outbreaks in the spring are reporting record surges in new cases. France, for example, reported a 54 percent increase in infections in the past week.
In the United States, many Sun Belt states have become coronavirus hot spots, and case numbers are spiking in the Midwest and other regions.
The country has almost a quarter of the more than 17 million coronavirus infections confirmed worldwide. Testimony from the U.S. health experts suggested that the widely divergent policies among states and regions of the country, as well as resistance by some Americans to practicing basic protective measures such as wearing masks and avoiding crowds, are at least partially responsible.
The hearing touched on a raging debate over whether children should return to classrooms for in-person instruction, or continue learning remotely.
Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a grandfather, said he thinks it is in children’s interest to return to their classrooms.
“I want these kids back in school,” he testified. “I want it done smartly, but I think we have to be honest that the public health and interest of the students in the nation right now is to get a quality education and face-to-face learning. We need to get on with it.”
But a report released Friday by the CDC may further fuel parental fears that a return to classrooms is too risky. The report suggests that children of all ages are susceptible to coronavirus infections and also may spread the virus.
The report details an outbreak at a summer camp in Georgia last month in which 260 children and staffers — more than three-quarters of those tested — contracted the virus less than a week after spending time together in close quarters.
All the campers and staffers had tested negative for the virus before arriving. But the children were not required to wear masks, although staffers were.
The virus continues to cast a shadow on almost every aspect of American life. Major League Baseball has canceled 14 games in its abbreviated season. Some 30 million Americans will lose the enhanced jobless benefit of $600 a week because Congress and the White House are at an impasse on extending it. Even without a national policy on mitigation efforts, more states are considering closing bars and are mandating mask-wearing in public.
Fauci again said he was optimistic that a vaccine is possible this year or early next year, and he later gave a forceful denunciation of a study — touted by Trump — that claimed the drug hydroxychloroquine has saved the lives of coronavirus patients.
The Houston doctor who insisted in a viral video Monday that hydroxychloroquine can prevent and cure covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and she doubled down on her unproven claims in a new interview with the TV station KPRC.
During the 13-minute interview broadcast Friday, Stella Immanuel, a primary care physician originally from Cameroon, zealously dismissed evidence that undermines her claims and embraced the profile boost that days of media coverage have given to her most outlandish medical theory — that certain diseases are caused by sex with demons and witches.
But it was Immanuel’s message that hydroxychloroquine is a coronavirus cure — one that she claims health agencies worldwide have conspired to ignore — that’s helped her gain traction in conservative media circles. Trump and his eldest son are among those who have promoted her ideas.
Immanuel claimed that former presidential candidate Herman Cain “likely wouldn’t have died” if he had been treated with hydroxychloroquine and said she has administered the drug to hundreds of her own patients with positive results.
Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said during an interview Thursday with CNN that there is “no evidence” that hydroxychloroquine works for treating covid-19, and the drug performed poorly in randomized trials. It is most commonly used as an antimalarial and to treat disorders such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
And Fauci criticized a Michigan hospital’s recent study that hydroxychloroquine significantly cut the covid-19 death rate, calling it a “flawed” trial.
At one point, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) tried to get Fauci to weigh in on whether protests were more acceptable than going to school or church. Fauci would not engage, repeating that being in a crowd increases the possibility of transmission while refusing to characterize the nature of the crowd.