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Reopening the country too soon might lead to 'really serious' consequences, Dr. Fauci warns

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens during a daily briefing on the novel coronavirus at the White House on April 6, 2020, in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens during a daily briefing on the novel coronavirus at the White House on April 6, 2020, in Washington, D.C. (Image credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

The nation's top infectious disease expert warned today that reopening states prematurely could have "really serious" consequences. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, along with several other government health officials, testified remotely before the U.S. Senate Health Committee today (May 12) on the reopening of the country. 

Fauci was expected to warn the committee of "needless suffering and death" if states skip over checkpoints in administration guidelines for reopening the U.S., according to an email he sent to The New York Times yesterday. During the hearing today, he echoed a similar warning.

Related: 13 coronavirus myths busted by science 

If communities, cities, states or regions, "prematurely open up without having the capability of being able to respond effectively and efficiently, my concern is that we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks," Fauci said. He recommended that the states should follow the administration's guidelines for safely reopening, which includes criteria that need to be satisfied before easing restrictions. Before a "phased comeback" there must be a 14-day downward trajectory of cases or a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period and hospitals must be able to treat all patients without crisis case and there must be a good testing program in place for healthcare workers, according to the guidelines. 

 If communities, states or regions reopen too soon, without following the guidelines, "the consequences could be really serious," he said.

Even if states reopen at the appropriate pace, it's important they have in place the capability to fight cases when they do appear, he said. "There is no doubt even under the best of circumstances, when you pull back on mitigation, you will see some cases appear. It's the ability and the capability of responding to those cases with good identification, isolation and contact tracing [that] will determine whether you can continue to go forward as you try to reopen America," he said.

Reopening, he added, is not only about "doing it at the appropriate time, with the appropriate constraints, but having in place the capability of responding when the inevitable return of infections occurs."

What's more, a second wave of infections in the fall, similar to what happened during the 1918 Spanish flu (opens in new tab)outbreak, is possible, Fauci said in response to Sen. Bernie Sanders' question during the hearing.

Even if we get control of the virus, "it is likely that there will be virus somewhere on this planet that will eventually get back to us." But with more testing capability, stocks of personal protective equipment and a better ability to identify, isolate and contract trace, "I hope that if we do have the threat of a second wave we will be able to deal with it very effectively to prevent it from becoming an outbreak."

Originally published on Live Science.

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Yasemin Saplakoglu
Staff Writer

Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

  • Quantum
    Please be real. Fauci is a long term government bureaucrat who stayed long enough to reach a position of prestige. His main claim to fame is bureaucratic performance. He has failed in the past. He should be a policy maker. But his totally medical issues do not take account of the impact of his policies on the economy and on the lives of the people impacted. Frankly, Dr. Fauci is pushing the Democrat agenda which wants to flatten the economy in order to get at Trump.

    Two studies out of California show that the virus is not as problematic as Dr. Fauci suggests. Also, the virus had been in California in November, December and January before the virus was recognized as a problem. We in California got the virus and thought it was the common flu. Can we get real and not fall for the Democrat Party agenda and willingness to destroy the economy in order to harm President Trump. And these references to the Spanish Flu in 1918 are so out of place and unreal today as to suggest the bias of the writer.