WASHINGTON — Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease researcher, escalated his tone regarding the novel coronavirus outbreak during a congressional hearing Wednesday, suggesting that large gatherings across the country should be cancelled.
“The bottom line: It is going to get worse,” Fauci told lawmakers.
The remarks, during a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, represented perhaps the sharpest advisory yet from a federal official regarding shifts Americans should prepare to make in their day-to-day lives.
“We would recommend that there not be large crowds,” Fauci said. “If that means not having any people in the audience where the NBA plays, so be it. But as a public health official, anything that has large crowds is something that would give a risk to spread.”
Fauci’s advisory follows a wave of major event cancellations. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Vice President Joe Biden each canceled presidential campaign rallies in Cleveland on Tuesday on the advice of Ohio’s governor. Save for a mid-size event in Milwaukee next week, President Trump has not scheduled campaign rallies in the coming week. And in Southern California, the major music festivals Stagecoach and Coachella announced they would postpone the events until October.
Sports leagues have also hatched contingency plans. The Golden State Warriors have continued to stage basketball games at its San Francisco arena despite advice from public health officials there. Major League Baseball’s Seattle Mariners, whose season begins in two weeks, could also be forced to relocate games, The Athletic, a sports journalism website, reported.
In a press briefing Tuesday night, Fauci suggested Americans should consider reconfiguring their lives more broadly in an effort to prevent new exposures to the coronavirus and the respiratory disease it causes, known as Covid-19.
“As a nation, we can’t be doing the kinds of things we were doing a few months ago,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in a state that has no cases or one case — you have to start taking seriously what you can do now, if and when the infections will come. And they will come. Sorry to say, sad to say, they will.”
At various points during the hearing, Fauci also appeared to contradict some of President Trump’s messaging surrounding the coronavirus.
“Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on,” Trump tweeted on Monday, referencing annual influenza outbreaks. “At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!” Trump also said recently that he was “shocked” to learn the flu kills tens of thousands of Americans each year.
Fauci, however, stressed that in his estimation, Covid-19 poses a dramatically greater risk to individuals who contract it than the flu does.
“The seasonal flu that we deal with every year has a mortality of 0.1%,” he said at the hearing. “The stated mortality, overall, of [the coronavirus], when you look at all the data including China, is about 3%.”
Fauci estimated that true mortality rate, given the number of cases that do not result in serious symptoms, as “somewhere around 1%, which means it is 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu,” he said. “I think that’s something that people can get their arms around and understand.”
Fauci also expressed regret that the Trump administration had not moved to replace pandemic response staffers on the National Security Council who resigned or were fired. Trump has been criticized for firing and not replacing Tom Bossert, who served as the NSC’s homeland security adviser in 2018 and whose role included pandemic preparedness efforts.
Asked about the move, Fauci declined to directly criticize the Trump administration.
“I wouldn’t necessarily characterize it as a mistake,” Fauci said. “I was saying we worked very well with that office. It would be nice if that office was still there.”