The U.S. is “not in total control” of the coronavirus pandemic and daily new cases could surpass 100,000 new infections per day if the outbreak continues at its current pace, White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday.
The country is now reporting nearly 40,000 new coronavirus cases every day — almost double from about 22,800 in mid-May — driven largely by outbreaks in a number of states across the South and West. Fauci said about 50% of all new cases are coming from four states: Florida, California, Texas and Arizona.
“I can’t make an accurate prediction but it’s going to be very disturbing,” Fauci told senators in a hearing held by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “We are now having 40-plus-thousand new cases a day. I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around, and so I am very concerned.”
The number of new cases reported each day in the U.S. is now outpacing April, when the virus rocked Washington state and parts of the Northeast, especially the New York City metropolitan area.
The U.S. averaged 39,750 new cases per day over the past seven days as of Monday, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. That average has risen by more than 40% compared with a week ago. As of Tuesday morning, the seven-day average of daily new cases reported rose by more than 5% week over week in 40 states, according to the data.
Fauci’s comments came in response to a question from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, who asked whether the U.S. is heading in the right direction in terms of controlling the outbreak.
“Well I think the numbers speak for themselves,” Fauci said. “I’m very concerned and I’m not satisfied with what’s going on because we’re going in the wrong direction if you look at the curves of the new cases, so we really have got to do something about that and we need to do it quickly.”
Outbreaks in states like Florida and Texas also threaten to disrupt the progress states like New York and New Jersey have so far made in driving down the outbreak in the Northeast, Fauci said. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut last week announced they would mandate 14-day quarantines for any travelers coming from a states with rapidly expanding outbreaks. Nonetheless, Fauci said increased infection anywhere in the country threatens to spread everywhere.
“I guarantee you that because when you have an outbreak in one part of the country, even though in other parts of the country they’re doing well, they are vulnerable,” Fauci said. “I made that point very clearly last week at a press conference. We can’t just focus on those areas that are having a surge, it puts the entire country at risk.”
The outbreaks might be partly driven by states that reopened too soon and might have disregarded some of the federal guidance meant to help states restart safely, Fauci said.
“We’ve got to make sure that when states start to try to open again, they need to follow the guidelines that have been very carefully laid out with regard to checkpoints,” Fauci said earlier Tuesday. He added that some states might be “going too quickly” with regard to reopening and “skipping over some of the checkpoints.”
While much of the country was still shutdown in April, the White House published guidance to help states reopen businesses and parts of society to try to avoid a major resurgence of the virus. The guidance included recommendations like waiting to reopen until daily new cases steadily fall for 14 days, ramping up testing and contact tracing, and increasing hospital capacity.
However, the guidance was not mandatory and a number of the first and most aggressive states to reopen have since seen daily new cases spiral into full-fledged outbreaks, prompting officials to pause or reverse reopening efforts. Fauci added that it’s not just states that reopened early with outbreaks. In other states, expanding outbreaks could indicate that the public is not heeding public health precautions such as mask wearing and physical distancing.
Even in states where governors and mayors “did it right with the right recommendations, we saw visually in clips and in photographs of individuals in the community doing an all-or-none phenomenon, which is dangerous,” he said. “By all or none I mean, either be locked down or open up in a way where you see people at bars not wearing masks, not avoiding crowds, not paying attention to physical distancing.”
The “disregard of recommendations” that public health officials and scientists have made in response to the pandemic needs to be addressed, Fauci said. He urged people to follow the guidelines, practice physical distancing and wear a mask.
“I think the attitude of pushing back from authority and pushing back on scientific data is very concerning,” Fauci said. “We’re in the middle of catastrophic outbreak and we really do need to be guided by scientific principles.”
Fauci was responding to a question from Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, who said “we do not have enough tests and we do not have enough contact tracers.”
Fauci has previously said some states are not conducting enough testing for the size of the outbreak they are dealing with and that contact-tracing efforts in the U.S. “is not going well.”
Contact tracing occurs when trained personnel contact infected people to investigate how they got Covid-19 and who they might have passed it to. Along with widespread testing and the ability to isolate potentially infectious people, tracing is an age-old public health intervention that is now being ramped up at an unprecedented scale.
“To just say you’re going to go out and identify, contact trace and isolate, that doesn’t mean anything until you do it,” Fauci told CNBC’s Meg Tirrell last week. “Not checking the box that you did it, but actually do it. Get people on the ground. Not on the phone. When you identify somebody, have a place to put them to get them out of social interaction.”