The United States is “not fully” in control of the coronavirus pandemic and daily new cases could exceed 100,000 new infections per day if the epidemic continues at its current rate, the White House health adviser said on Tuesday, Dr Anthony Fauci.
The country is now reporting nearly 40,000 new cases of coronavirus every day – almost double from around 22,800 as of mid-May – mainly due to outbreaks in a number of states in the south and west. Fauci said about 50% of all new cases came from four states: Florida, California, Texas and Arizona.
“I cannot make a precise prediction, but it is going to be very worrying,” Fauci told senators at a hearing held by the Senate committee on health, education, work and pensions. “We now have over 40,000 new cases per day. I wouldn’t be surprised if we go up to 100,000 per day if that doesn’t improve, so I am very concerned.”
The number of new cases reported every day in the United States now exceeds that of April, when the virus rocked Washington state and parts of the Northeast, particularly the New York metropolitan area.
The United States recorded an average of 39,750 new cases per day over the past seven days on Monday, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. This average is up more than 40% from a week ago. As of Tuesday morning, the seven-day average of new daily reported cases rose more than 5% week-over-week in 40 states, the data showed.
Fauci’s comments came in response to a question from Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, who asked if the United States is moving in the right direction in terms of controlling the outbreak.
“Well I think the numbers speak for themselves,” Fauci said. “I’m very worried and I’m not happy 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 need to do something about it and we need to do it quickly. “
Outbreaks in states like Florida and Texas also threaten to disrupt progress made so far by states like New York and New Jersey to reduce the outbreak in the northeast, Fauci said. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut announced last week that they would impose 14-day quarantines on all travelers from states with rapidly growing epidemics. Nonetheless, Fauci said increased infection across the country threatens to spread everywhere.
“I guarantee that to you because when you have an epidemic in one part of the country, even if in other parts of the country they are doing well, they are vulnerable,” Fauci said. “I made this point very clearly last week at a press conference. We cannot just focus on the areas that are experiencing a surge, it puts the whole country at risk.”
The outbreaks could be in part caused by states that reopened too early and may have ignored some of the federal guidelines meant to help states restart safely, Fauci said.
“We have to make sure that when states start trying to reopen, they have to follow the guidelines that have been very carefully laid out when it comes to checkpoints,” Fauci said earlier on Tuesday. He added that some states might “move too fast” on the reopening and “skip some of the checkpoints.”
While much of the country was still closed in April, the White House issued guidelines to help states reopen businesses and parts of society to try to avoid a major resurgence of the virus. The guidelines included recommendations such as waiting for reopening until new daily cases decline steadily for 14 days, speeding up testing and contact tracing, and increasing hospital capacity.
However, the guidelines were not mandatory and a number of the first and most aggressive states to reopen have since seen daily new cases escalate into full-fledged epidemics, prompting authorities to suspend or reverse reopening efforts. Fauci added that it wasn’t just states that reopened early with outbreaks. In other states, expanding epidemics could indicate the public is ignoring public health precautions such as mask wear and physical distancing.
Even in states where governors and mayors “have done it right with the right recommendations, we have seen visually in clips and in photographs of individuals in the community doing an all-or-nothing phenomenon, which is dangerous,” did he declare. “By all or nothing, I mean, either be locked up or open up so you can see people in bars not wearing masks, not avoiding crowds, not paying attention to physical distance.”
The “failure to follow recommendations” that public health officials and scientists have made in response to the pandemic must be addressed, Fauci said. He urged people to follow directions, practice physical distancing and wear a mask.
“I think the attitude of pushing back authority and pushing back scientific data is of great concern,” Fauci said. “We are in the midst of a catastrophic epidemic and we really need to be guided by scientific principles.”
Fauci was responding to a question from Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, who said “we don’t have enough tests and we don’t have enough contact tracers.”
Fauci has previously said some states are not conducting enough testing for the scale of the outbreak they are facing and that contact tracing efforts in the United States “are not going well.”
Contact tracing occurs when trained staff contact infected people to investigate how they contracted Covid-19 and to whom they may have transmitted it. In addition to widespread testing and the ability to isolate potentially infectious people, tracing is an age-old public health intervention that is now escalating on an unprecedented scale.
“Just to say that you’re going to come out and identify, contact, trace and isolate, that doesn’t mean anything until you do,” Fauci told CNBC’s Meg Tirrell last week. “Don’t check the box that you did, but actually do it. Put people on the ground. Not on the phone. When you identify someone, have a place to put it to take them out of social interaction. . “
– CNBC Jasmine kim and Berkeley Lovelace Jr. contributed to this report.