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.
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 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."
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Originally published on Live Science.