The government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, is expected to warn senators in a videoconference hearing Tuesday that there will be “needless suffering and death” if the country opens up too soon, according to an email Fauci sent the New York Times.
His testimony comes after President Donald Trump on Monday exaggerated the availability of coronavirus testing in the U.S. on Tuesday in his push to reopen the country, claiming Americans returning to work can get tested daily “very soon,” even though many governors disagree.
The Senate hearing this morning is the first time Fauci will testify since mid-March, and Democrats note he will be outside the presence of Trump.
He is testifying — along with some of the most prominent doctors on the president’s coronavirus task force — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn and coronavirus testing coordinator Adm. Brett Giroir — in the historic hearing before the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to field questions surrounding reopening the economy, as more states lift restrictions meant to slow the spread of the virus.
Three of the four witnesses — Fauci, Redfield and Hahn — are in some form of self-quarantine following “low risk” contact with at least one infected White House staff member. Even the committee chair, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., will preside from his home state after one of his staff members, too, tested positive for the contagious pathogen.
The teleconference testimony also comes as precautions are being put in place at the White House over fears the virus has invaded the West Wing, including a mandate that staffers must wear masks following positive coronavirus tests from one of the president’s valets and the vice president’s press secretary.
Tune into ABC at 1 p.m. ET and ABC News Live at 4 p.m. ET every weekday for special coverage of the novel coronavirus with the full ABC News team, including the latest news, context and analysis.
Here are Tuesday’s most significant developments in Washington:
Here is how the Senate hearing is unfolding. Please refresh for updates.
10:35 a.m. Fauci warns of the unknown efficacy of vaccine candidates in opening statement
Fauci outlined the goals of the NIH in addressing the pandemic and, ever cautious, offered a word of warning as the world waits for a safe coronavirus vaccine.
“The strategic plan that we have is four-fold. One, to improve our fundamental knowledge of the virus and the disease it causes. Next, to develop new point-of-care diagnostics. Next, to characterize and test therapeutics. And finally, develop safe and effective vaccines,” Fauci said, adding that there are “at least eight candidate COVID-19 vaccines” currently in clinical development.
“I must warn that there’s also the possibility of negative consequences, where certain vaccines can actually enhance the negative effect of the infection,” he added. “The big unknown is efficacy.”
10:25 a.m. Top Democrat Sen. Murray says public ‘counting on us for the truth’
In her opening statement, Ranking Member Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., questioned whether President Trump was telling the truth about the government’s response, and while she said agreed with Alexander’s call for ramped-up testing, she said “testing along won’t be enough to reopen our country.”
“I’d like to thank, not only our witnesses for joining us today, but also our committee staff are working to set up a safe format for members and witnesses, and the public to participate in this hearing remotely 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,” Murray began. “Lives are at stake.”
Murray ticked through a list of what she called “delays” and “missteps” by the administration such as allowing inaccurate antibody tests to flood the market and falling behind on outbreaks at meatpacking plants and nursing homes.
“We recently learned that after experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spent weeks, developing a detailed guide to help our communities understand how to safely reopen when the time comes, the Trump administration tossed it in the trash bin for being too prescriptive,” she added.
10:10 a.m. Sen. Alexander begins hearing from Tennessee home
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, in his opening statement Tuesday morning, kicked off the historic video conference hearing with an emphasis on coronavirus testing and an acknowledgement that it currently falls short.
“Vaccines and treatments are the ultimate solutions, but until we have them, all roads back to work and back to school go through testing. The more tests we conduct, the better we can identify the small number of those who are sick and track those who they have had contact with,” he said. “Then we can quarantine the sick and exposed instead of trying to quarantine the entire country with disastrous effects on our economic wellbeing,” Alexander said. “That’s why I said last Thursday, what our country has done so far in testing is impressive, but not nearly enough.”
From earlier today:
Trump and Pence to maintain distance from each other
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will maintain distance from each other in the immediate future, according to a senior administration official.
The decision was made in consultation with the medical unit at the White House.
It comes after Pence, though present in Washington, was notably not in attendance at Trump’s briefing Monday in the Rose Garden.
ABC News’ Katherine Faulders