Top coronavirus advisers Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Robert Redfield and Adm. Brett Giroir, testified Friday before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis on national coronavirus strategy. Here are highlights from the hearing:
Officials acknowledge COVID testing delays, shortages
The nation’s top U.S. COVID-19 advisers acknowledged to a key congressional committee delays and shortages in virus testing as the country grapples with surging cases and a rising death toll.
Admiral Brett Giroir, who serves as lead adviser on testing for President Donald Trump’s administration, told lawmakers during an often-contentious hearing on Capitol Hill Friday that it was not possible to get all test results back within 48 to 72 hours because of “the demand and the supply” of tests.
“We cannot test our way out of this or any other pandemic,” he said in his opening statement before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.
Trump has touted the number of tests being done despite reports of delays and shortages in hot spots, boasting of the country’s “massive testing capability” in a tweet posted as the hearing was taking place.
Other key takeaways from Friday’s hearing:
- The lack of bipartisanship was evident throughout the hearing with Republicans and Democrats sniping at each other over the administration’s response to a pandemic that has already infected roughly 4.5 Americans and killed more than 150,000. Republicans also went after Fauci, pressing him on cyber threats from China and trying to draw him out on the health risks posed by protests against police violence.
- National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said he did not see China as a “threat” to the development of a coronavirus vaccine despite the recent federal charges against two Chinese hackers accused of stealing trade secrets and probing vulnerabilities of companies involved in coronavirus research.
- CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield testified he was not involved in the White House decision to bypass the CDC and report coronavirus hospitalization data through the Department of Health and Human Services, and learned about it only after the decision was made.
- Fauci once again dismissed the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, which Trump has touted as useful for combating the disease. Fauci said he had not seen a single scientifically valid study that proved its efficacy.
- Trump slammed Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., the chairman of the committee, in a tweet during the hearing, saying the congressman “doesn’t have a clue. ” Clyburn had displayed charts comparing the rising caseloads in the U.S. versus Europe where far fewer cases are being reported.
Fauci: Increase in COVID cases not due to more testing
Dr. Anthony Fauci was asked by Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., if the increase in cases was linked to an increase in testing, as President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed.
Fauci disputed the claim and said the increase in cases was “real.”
“If you do more testing, you will see more cases,” he said. “But the increases that we are seeing are real increases in cases, as also reflected by increases in hospitalization and increases in deaths.”
Fauci was also asked if the United States’ inability to control the virus was caused by a lack of testing. He responded that controlling the virus is a complex, multifaceted process, but “testing is a part of the process of controlling infection,” especially as it relates to contact tracing.
In order to do contact tracing, he said, “you need testing back within a reasonable period of time,” adding that officials had testified during the hearing about concerns in testing delays.
Asked why professional sports teams can get results in 24 hours when the overwhelming majority of Americans cannot, Fauci said that many sports teams had bought their own rapid-testing machines.
Fauci: No evidence hydroxychloroquine helps with COVID-19
Fauci said he had not seen any evidence that hydroxychloroquine is effective at preventing COVID-19 or minimizing its effects, even though President Donald Trump has repeatedly touted what he says are its benefits.
Fauci said no randomized, placebo-controlled trial – “which is the gold standard” – has been conducted that clearly shows the anti-malarial drug benefits COVID-19 patients who took it.
“We all want to keep an open mind (but) none of them have shown any efficacy,” he said, responding to questions from Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo. “I don’t have any horse in the game, one way or the other. I just look at the data.”
Fauci’s comments about hydroxychloroquine comes days after Twitter removed a post that Trump had retweeted in which a doctor proclaims, without evidence, that “there is a cure” for the coronavirus.
Fauci says China is not a ‘threat’ to vaccine development
Dr. Anthony Fauci, asked by Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., if China was a “threat” to COVID-19 vaccine development, said “no.”
All of the vaccine development was already transparent, Fauci said, so “if they want to hack into a computer and find out what the results of a vaccine trial are,” hackers would find results that would show up in the New England Journal of Medicine anyway.
Walorski said she disagreed with his answer, saying, “I don’t know how in the world that we can stand there and say, ‘No, I don’t think China is a threat to the vaccine production in this country when we just indicted two people.'”
Walorski was referring to the recent charging of two Chinese hackers with the theft of trade secrets and probing of vulnerabilities of companies involved in coronavirus research.
GOP lawmaker accuses committee of trying to punish Republican-run states
Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., accused the Democratic-run committee of unfairly targeting Republican-run states where coronavirus cases are spiking.
Green pointed to the designation of 21 “red zone” states where a surge in cases has prompted alarm. Fourteen of those states are run by Democrats and none of them got an admonishment letter from the panel, he said.
“This isn’t about transparency. It’s about ridiculing four states, including my home state of Tennessee,” Green said. “What about the other 17 states? Why didn’t get California get included in the letter? They’ve seen an explosion of positive cases.”
Clyburn responded that the letters he sent to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, were prompted by their continued refusal to adopt measures that comply with the White House Task Force’s recommendations.
He pointed out that three of the red-zone states that did not get a letter are run by Republican governors.
“This has nothing to do with partisanship but with political response(by the four states) rather than responding to the science,” Clyburn said.
Fauci: Lack of unity in state responses hurt effort to contain coronavirus
Fauci told lawmakers a “diversity of response” from states hindered the nation’s attempts to bring down virus case numbers.
Asked by Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., why other countries had succeeded in containing the virus while the United States had not, Fauci said the issue was “complex,” but noted Europe and Asia had managed to “shut down” 95% of their populations, whereas about 50% of the United States was shut down.
Pressed on whether the issue with the American response was due to a lack of social cohesion or in its political leadership, Fauci said, “There was such a diversity of response in this country from different states that we really did not have a unified (one) bringing everything down.”
Earlier in the hearing, he told lawmakers some states had reopened earlier than federal guidelines had recommended, which helped contribute to surges in cases.
Jordan presses Fauci on coronavirus transmission from protests
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, pressed Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, on the safety of protests, asking him if they posed a public health risk and should be limited by the government.
“I don’t understand what you’re asking (of) me as a public health official to opine on who should get arrested,” Fauci told lawmakers. “That’s not my position.”
Jordan continued to pepper Fauci with questions, asking why churches and gyms were closed. Fauci reiterated his concern that crowds of all kinds should be avoided.
Jordan later mentioned Fauci’s comments about the risk of disease transmission at protests.
“Any crowd, whether it’s a protest – any crowd of people close together without masks is a risk. And I’ll stick by that statement,” Fauci responded. “It’s a public health statement. It’s not a judgment.”
CDC’s Redfield says he was told after the fact about change in data reporting
CDC Director Robert Redfield told lawmakers he was informed of the Trump administration’s decision to bypass the CDC and report coronavirus hospitalization data through the Department of Health and Human Services after the decision was made.
“I was told actually once the secretary’s office made the decision that that was the decision and we work together,” he said, noting he was not involved in the final decision.
Redfield did not discuss the decision with Vice President Mike Pence, the head of the coronavirus task force, or with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, he added.
Advocates warned the reporting of the data through HHS instead of CDC could lead to politicization of the data, though Redfield told lawmakers the change in reporting did not change the CDC’s access to data.
Trump slams Clyburn during hearing
A chart presented by the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., about the continued increase in coronavirus cases provoked the wrath of President Donald Trump.
In a tweet, Trump said Clyburn “doesn’t have a clue” and incorrectly claimed the rise in cases was because the United States conducted more coronavirus tests than Europe, though experts say the rise in cases in the United States cannot be attributed alone to the increased number of tests. “If we had no testing or bad testing, we would show very few CASES,” Trump wrote.
Asked by Clyburn about the increase in cases, Fauci said the reasons were complex.
“We started off with a very difficult baseline of transmission that was going on at the time that we tried to open up the country,” he said, and noted that some states reopened earlier than federal guidelines had recommended. Fauci added that the increase in cases could also be because some people were not adhering to federal guidelines and were not wearing masks or social distancing.
Clyburn told reporters after Trump’s tweet was posted, “his level of respect is improving. He called me mister.”
Senior Trump aide: US ‘cannot test our way out’ of pandemic
Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services Admiral Brett Giroir, the administration’s lead official on testing, defended the nation’s testing capabilities and urged Americans to take responsibility for keeping themselves safe despite criticism of delays and the lack of a national testing plan.
“We cannot test our way out of this or any other pandemic,” he said. “Testing does not replace personal responsibility. It does not substitute for avoiding crowded indoor spaces or washing hands or wearing masks, and a negative test does not mean that you won’t be positive tomorrow,” he said. “A negative test is not a substitute for avoiding crowds, or wearing a mask or protecting the vulnerable with your actions.”
According to Giroir, “unprecedented demand” had “strained” testing capacity, but test turnaround times had started to improve.
Top coronavirus task force members testified before a congressional panel Friday as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its toll and states face a resurgence of cases.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, and Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services Admiral Brett Giroir, the administration’s lead official on testing, testified before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis on national coronavirus strategy
At the hearing, which began at 9 a.m. EDT, Redfield, in addition to addressing the CDC’s current efforts, urged Americans to “be part of the public health solution.”
It was “critical,” Redfield said, to be “smart about social distancing and being in crowded spaces,” to stay six feet apart if possible and to be “vigilant” about hand washing.
In his prepared remarks, he also told Americans to get a flu vaccine this year because of the risk of the flu and COVID-19 overwhelming the health care system.
“If there is COVID-19 and flu activity at the same time, this could place a tremendous burden on the health care system related to bed occupancy, laboratory testing needs, personal protective equipment and health care worker safety,” he is set to say.
Addressing the development of a vaccine for the virus, Fauci, who walked into the hearing wearing a Washington Nationals face mask, told lawmakers he was hopeful that a “safe and effective” vaccine would be available by late fall or early winter.
The experts’ testimony comes as the nation battles spikes in cases and deaths from COVID-19 across the country. The United States two days ago marked the grim milestone of 150,000 deaths from the pandemic.
Clyburn assailed the Trump administration for having “failed” on testing.
“The federal government has still not yet developed and implemented a national strategy to protect the American people,” he said.
The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., responded by saying the witnesses would not even be before the committee today “if there wasn’t a plan.”