Dr. Anthony Fauci warns senators of ‘suffering and death’ if states reopen too early

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Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee during a hearing on “An Emerging Disease Threat: How the U.S. Is Responding to COVID-19, the Novel Coronavirus” on March 3, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Sarah Silbiger | Getty Images

White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Tuesday that the United States could face even more “suffering and death” from the coronavirus if some states rush to reopen businesses too early. 

It could also set states back “on the road to try to get back to an economic recovery,” he testified at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. “It would almost turn the clock back rather than going forward. That is my major concern.”

The White House has laid out a plan that allows states to gradually reopen local businesses as cases and hospitalizations decline and testing increases, among other “checkpoints,” Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said. He added he’s worried that some states are loosening social distancing restrictions even as their Covid-19 cases continue to rise. 

“What I’ve expressed then and again is my concern that if some areas, cities, states, what have you, jump over those various checkpoints and prematurely open up without having the capability of being able to respond effectively and efficiently, my concern is that we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks,” he said.

Fauci’s comments come as the virus continues to spread across the United States, infecting more than 1.3 million people and killing at least 80,684 as of Tuesday morning, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. U.S. health officials say the true number of cases and deaths is likely much higher as some people infected with the virus go undetected.

In the U.S., some states are beginning to reopen businesses despite projections suggesting it will lead to a steady rise in the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths over the next couple of weeks.

Fauci told The New York Times on Monday that he planned to publicly warn states that prematurely reopening their economies will cause “needless suffering and death.”

“The major message that I wish to convey to the Senate HLP committee tomorrow is the danger of trying to open the country prematurely,” Fauci wrote in an email to the Times.

“If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to: ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country. This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal,” Fauci wrote. 

Fauci on Tuesday repeated his call for a vaccine as essential to stopping the spread of the coronavirus and reducing the rate of deaths from the pandemic. He said he was optimistic scientists and companies would find a workable candidate, but warned of potential pitfalls in developing any vaccine. He also said one won’t be ready for the school year starting this fall.

Read CNBC’s live updates to see the latest news on the Covid-19 outbreak.

WATCH: Dr. Anthony Fauci’s opening statement to Congress on coronavirus pandemic

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