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Dr. Anthony Fauci, the face of the White House coronavirus task force, is expected to warn Tuesday that lifting restrictions keeping people home from school and work could pose unnecessary health risks in testimony before the Senate Health Committee.
The hearing, which features Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), as well as three other top administration health officials, is the biggest congressional hearing since the coronavirus crisis began. Fauci did not rip on the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic in his planned remarks, instead emphasizing efforts by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop vaccines and other medical means to fight the coronavirus.
“NIH is focused on developing safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics, and sensitive, specific, and rapid point-of-care diagnostic tests,” Fauci’s prepared testimony reads. “These efforts will improve our response to the current pandemic and bolster our preparedness for the next, inevitable emerging disease outbreak”
Fauci will appear remotely due to concerns that he might have been exposed to the coronavirus. Multiple senators also appeared virtually for the hearing, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the committee, and Ranking Member Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
“After consulting with Dr. Fauci, and in an abundance of caution for our witnesses, senators, and the staff, all four Administration witnesses will appear by videoconference due to these unusual circumstances,” Alexander said in a statement.
Alexander, in his opening remarks, emphasized the necessity of testing and also said the government might make an effort to mass-manufacture a vaccine before it’s been proven to work so it can be quickly distributed once it’s officially approved.
“Those vaccines, those treatments, are the ultimate solution,” he said. “But until we have them, all roads back to work and school go through testing.”
Murray wasted no time hitting the president in her opening remarks.
“Families across the country are counting on us for the truth about the COVID-19 pandemic, especially since it is clear they will not get it from President Trump,” she said. “Truth is essential… The president isn’t telling the truth. We must. And our witnesses must.”
She also criticized the Trump administration’s tangible response to the virus, saying it has been marked by delays and insufficient assistance to states and health professionals.
Democrats see the hearing as an opportunity to separate Fauci from President Trump, whom the medical expert is almost always with when he appears publicly, so that Fauci will feel free to criticize Trump. Critics of the president have argued his response to the coronavirus crisis was wholly inadequate, with Trump initially downplaying the threat before letting petty politics get in the way of helping states overwhelmed by the threat before moving too quickly to reopen the economy.
Fauci has said very little critical of Trump in his public appearances but is expected to warn against reopening the economy too soon on Wednesday, according to the New York Times.
“If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country. This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal,” Fauci will say, according to the Times.
“Until now, we’ve mostly heard from the members of the coronavirus task force through the distorted lens of the White House press conference where the president often prevents them from answering fully, interrupts their response, or even contradicts their fact-based evidence,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on Monday.
“This will be one of the first opportunities for Dr. Fauci to tell the American people the unvarnished truth without the president lurking over his shoulder. Dr. Fauci, let it rip,” he added.
Fauci will be joined by Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; and Adm. Brett P. Giroir, the assistant secretary for health.
Fox News’ Chad Pergram and Vandana Rambaran contributed to this report.
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