Dr Anthony Fauci is America’s top leading infectious diseases expert. He has been a reassuring, constant voice of caution and balance in an often hyperbolic, hyper tense environment.
It was clear in his testimony before the Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee, he wanted to issue a warning – a rush to re-open could have grave consequences for the country.
If “states or cities or regions” disregard the government’s “checkpoints” on when it’s safe to pull back from mitigation measures, Fauci said: “I feel if that occurs, there is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you might not be able to control, which, in fact, paradoxically, will set you back, not only leading to some suffering and death, that could be avoided, but could even set you back on the road to trying to get economic recovery.
“We would almost turn the clock back, rather than going forward.”
As for the next school year, the senior scientist said there are new, unusual cases involving children getting sick that need to be understood first.
The idea he could tell parents that it’s safe for kids to return in the autumn to school he say, “might be a bridge too far at this time.”
Dr Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also conceded the death rate is likely higher than the 80,000 reported. But with his sombre analysis, also came words of hope.
More from Covid-19
Coronavirus: Care homes ‘almost compelled’ to take people who may have COVID-19
Getting back to work & the killer in our care homes
Coronavirus: Prosecution threat for firms who fail to make premises ‘COVID secure’
Coronavirus: McDonald’s announces phase two of plan to reopen its restaurants
Coronavirus: Queen joins royal telephone calls to thank nurses
Coronavirus deaths rise by 627, taking the total in the UK to 32,692
He told the committee that scientists aim to know if a successful coronavirus vaccine has been found by late fall and early winter. He added that he was “cautiously optimistic” about a vaccine.
There are eight currently being accelerated. “We have many candidates and hope to have multiple winners,” Dr Fauci explained to senators.
Administration officials said a massive increase in testing is on the way – 25 to 30 million tests a month, along with tracing to better determine the spread. But until then Dr Fauci says, it is very conceivable there will be a second wave.
It is not a surprising assessment – there have been warnings of that for weeks. But the tone is at odds with that of Donald Trump who has sounded very positive notes about the readiness of America to re-open and its success in overcoming the pandemic.
:: Listen to Divided States on Apple podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Spreaker
The concern among those he’s working alongside is that states and people aren’t following the guidelines the Coronavirus Taskforce has laid out.
Scenes of beaches and parks packed with people not wearing masks have alarmed those like Dr Fauci who put together the recommendations.
The president is not alone in his frustrations – far from it. Some states have been incredibly vocal in their desires to return to normality.
But the man at the coalface of the medical and scientific response has made clear – he doesn’t think a return to normal is or should be imminent.