Fauci: COVID-19 vaccine, treatment by autumn 'a bridge too far'

COVID-19 syringe, drugs, blood test, etc
COVID-19 syringe, drugs, blood test, etc

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According to Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, it's a bridge too far to consider that medical therapeutics and an efficacious vaccine could be at play in the United States at the end of August.

That's when 50 million American schoolchildren and 20 million college students consider returning to classes after moving to distance learning in March and April in the face of the novel coronavirus.

Fauci's remarks came during a 3-hour-plus Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing—conducted via video conferencing—on the state of pandemic response.

Senators, led by Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), questioned Fauci, Robert Redfield, MD, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Admiral Brett Giroir, MD, the White House's czar on COVID-19 testing, and Stephen Hahn, MD, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, on testing, surveillance, vaccine development, and therapeutics, and how all those factors might help the country come out of lockdown in the coming months.

School closings bring 'unintended consequences'

Throughout the hearing, senators from both sides of the aisle implored the experts for more detailed guidance on reopening, especially for schools and higher education, saying that, without schools returning to on-site classes in the fall, millions of at-risk kids could fall behind, or go hungry.

Moreover, parents would not be able to participate in a full economic recovery if children were still learning at home.

"I don't have a good solution for what happens when you close schools," said Fauci, "I don't have a good explanation or solution to the problem of what happens when you close schools and it triggers a cascade of events."

Fauci said he anticipates school openings to look different across the country, as some districts will be less affected by the virus than others.

Fauci warns of opening too quickly

Fauci warned senators that states risk new and worsening COVID-19 outbreaks if they skip over steps illustrated in the "Open America Again" guidelines published last month by the White House.

"If some areas, cities, states or what-have-you jump over those various checkpoints and 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," said Fauci. "I have been very clear in my message—to try to the best extent possible to go by the guidelines, which have been very well thought out and very well delineated."

Several senators took issue with this, saying the guidelines have seemingly been abandoned by the White House, and that the CDC has failed to provide more detailed guidelines for local leaders. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), in one of the hearing's most tense exchanges, pointedly and repeatedly asked Redfield when the CDC would issue more reopening guidelines.

Redfield said the agency would be posting guidelines to the website "soon."

"We're opening in 5, 11 days," Murphy said. "We need more than that."

Alexander: Testing is the road back

Throughout the hearing, Senator Alexander returned to the topic of testing. "Testing is the road back to school and work," Alexander said. "What our country has done so far in testing is impressive, but not nearly enough."

Giroir said the country could see 40 million to 50 million tests conducted per month by August, a number he said would allow college campuses and workplaces to open up more securely. Yesterday, President Donald Trump said the country had a goal of conducting 12.9 million COVID-19 tests through the end of May.

Alexander asked Giroir if antigen tests could be used on college campuses to test all incoming students.

"It is certainly possible to test all of the students," Giroir said. "It is much more likely that there would be a surveillance strategy done where you may test some of the students at different times to ensure there is no circulation."

US cases continue to climb

According to the New York Times tracker, there are 1,363,800 COVID-19 cases and 81,507 fatalities. As case counts mount, new polls today show how Americans are thinking about the virus.

According to a new CNN poll, 4 out of 5 Americans are afraid or concerned about a second wave of COVID-19 cases in the fall. Only 18% say they are not concerned.

In a Washington Post-Ipsos poll, Americans are mostly giving bipartisan support to governors for the stay-at-home orders and subsequent reopening plans.

Republican governors had both the highest and lowest approval ratings for their coronavirus response, with 86% of Ohioans saying they approve of Mike DeWine's job performance, but only 39% of Georgians saying the same for Brian Kemp.

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