Health Officials Haven’t Spoken to Trump Despite Virus Surge

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Top U.S. health officials told lawmakers Tuesday that they haven’t discussed the Covid-19 pandemic with President Donald Trump for more than two weeks, a period in which cases have surged in some of the most populous states.

A spike in infections in Texas, California, Florida and Arizona has ignited fear that hospitals could be overwhelmed and that some of the steps states have taken to re-open for business may need to be rolled back. Trump has blamed the wave of infections on testing and said at a rally in Oklahoma Saturday that he told his administration to rein in screening.

However, Anthony Fauci, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director, and Robert Redfield, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chief, both said Tuesday that they haven’t been asked to slow down.

“It’s the opposite,” Fauci said at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday. “We’re going to be doing more testing, not less.”

Most of the officials indicated that they have recently had little communication with the president. Fauci and Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir said they haven’t spoken to Trump about the virus in about two and a half weeks. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn said it had been “some time” since he’d spoke to Trump. Redfield declined to say when he last spoke to the president.

Fauci noted what he called a disturbing surge of infections in reopening states, and said “the next couple of weeks are going to be critical in our ability to address those surges we’re seeing in Florida and Texas and Arizona.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, said Monday infections there were increasing at “an unacceptable rate.” The state hit a new high of 5,000 new cases on Tuesday. The U.S. has recorded 2.3 million Covid-19 cases and more than 120,000 deaths overall.

New Lockdowns?

Fauci said the surge in infections in some states doesn’t necessarily mean governors need to impose lockdowns again. For example, he said, if a state gets into trouble in phase two of reopening, “they may need to go back to phase one. I don’t think they necessarily need to go back into lock down.”

Fauci referred to the current number of virus cases in the U.S. as “a mixed bag, really. We have a very large country, very heterogeneous,” he said. “If you look at how we’ve been hit, we’ve been hit badly.”

Representative Pete Olson, a Republican from Texas, called the situation in his state scary, and asked Fauci for his insight on people who aren’t taking the virus seriously.

“You have a situation that is very confusing,” Fauci said, noting some young people are infected but don’t show symptoms or only experience mild symptoms. But he said people have a responsibility not just for themselves but also for others who are more vulnerable.

Those who spread the virus even it they don’t get sick are “part of the process of the dynamics of an outbreak,” Fauci said.

Asked by Representative Brett Guthrie, a Republican from Kentucky, whether children will be able to go back to school in August, Fauci and Redfield both said those decisions will be made by local officials. Redfield said the CDC will soon issue guidance on school reopening.

“You don’t want to make one-size-fits-all for the United States,” Fauci said.

Summer Break

In an interview earlier this week, Fauci said the virus does not appear to be taking a summer break despite comments he made earlier in the year that lung infections tend to slow down in warmer months, a sentiment that has been echoed by President Donald Trump.

At the hearing, he called Covid-19 a “double whammy” for the Black community because of underlying health conditions.

“The African American community has suffered from racism for a very long period of time and I cannot imagine that that has not contributed to the situation they find themselves in,” he said.

Giroir, meanwhile, announced during the meeting that the agency has selected the Morehouse School of Medicine to develop and implement a $40 million initiative aimed at fighting Covid-19 among racial and ethnic minorities, as well as rural and other socially vulnerable communities.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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