A senior health official set to testify before the US Senate will warn legislators about the risks of reopening the economy too soon, saying it could lead to “needless suffering and death”, according to the New York Times.
Monday’s report about the warning from Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading member of the White House’s coronavirus taskforce, came as President Donald Trump pressed states to lift lockdown measures, saying “people are dying in the lockdown position, too”.
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Fauci, who will appear before Congress remotely on Tuesday, told the New York Times’ healthcare and COVID-19 reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg in an email that his main message to legislators would be on “the danger of trying to open the country prematurely”.
“If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country,” Fauci said. “This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.”
The top infectious disease expert was referring to a White House plan that lays out guidelines for state officials considering reopening their economies. The recommendations include registering a sustained decrease in coronavirus infections and implementing robust testing and contact-tracing programmes.
Economic pressure to ease
But spurred on by record job losses, about half of US states have begun easing restrictions without meeting those guidelines. The US is the country hardest-hit by the coronavirus, with some 80,000 known deaths and at least 1.3 million confirmed cases.
“We’re not reopening based on science,” Dr Thomas R Frieden, former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was quoted as saying by the New York Times. “We’re reopening based on politics, ideology and public pressure. And I think it’s going to end badly.”
Meanwhile, Trump in a Twitter post complained that Democratic governors were being too slow in lifting restrictions in their states.
“The great people of Pennsylvania want their freedom now, and they are fully aware of what that entails,” the Republican president tweeted. “The Democrats are moving slowly, all over the USA, for political purposes. They would wait until November 3rd if it were up to them. Don’t play politics. Be safe, move quickly!”
Trump was scheduled to travel to the state on Thursday, according to advisories from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Decisions about the pace of reopening are being made with the November general election less than six months away, and Trump is facing the poll in the midst of a public health and economic crisis.
“If we do this carefully, working with the governors, I don’t think there’s a considerable risk,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on the Fox News Sunday television programme.
“Matter of fact, I think there’s a considerable risk of not reopening. You’re talking about what would be permanent economic damage to the American public.”
Government figures on Friday showed a record 20.5 million Americans lost their jobs in April. Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also showed the unemployment rate skyrocketed to 14.7 percent last month – the highest since the Great Depression.
Still, a poll by the University of Chicago Divinity School and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found expansive support for coronavirus-related restrictions.
The survey, published on Monday, found that 71 percent of people in the US favour requiring people to stay in their homes except for essential errands. However, the poll indicates support for such measures has dipped slightly, down from 80 percent two weeks earlier.
Similarly, 67 percent now say they favour requiring bars and restaurants to close, down from 76 percent in the earlier poll.
The poll also suggested declining support for requiring Americans to limit gatherings to 10 people or fewer (from 82 percent to 75 percent) and requiring postponement of non-essential medical care (from 68 percent to 57 percent).