(WASHINGTON) — Some of the nation’s top public experts are being grilled on Capitol Hill Wednesday about how bad the coronavirus crisis might get and whether the Trump administration is up to the job of dealing with it.
The tough questions come as President Donald Trump meets with bankers at the White House and the administration tries to cut a deal with congressional Democrats on economic relief measures that could include everything from paid sick leave to a payroll tax cut.
Here is how developments in Washington are unfolding. Please refresh for updates.
Fauci tells Congress: ‘It’s going to get worse’
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the widely-respected director the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was asked directly by House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, if the worse is yet to come.
“Yes,” he answered bluntly. “Bottom line, it’s going to get worse,” he said, adding that the U.S. will certainly see more cases and how much worse it gets depends on the ability to contain the infected.
Moments before, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield announced “with sadness” the 31st American death from the coronavirus.
Maloney leveled harsh criticism of the administration’s response.
“My question is if the Trump administration is exacerbating the crisis by downplaying it,” she said. “My constituents are telling me they can’t get tested.”
“South Korea can test more people in one day than we have in the last two months,” Maloney noted, asking why the U.S. hasn’t tested more people.
Redfield defended the CDC, saying tests were always available at the CDC in Atlanta suggested some responsibility lay with the private sector.
But he said he’s “not confident” that U.S. labs have an adequate stock of supplies used to extract genetic material from a virus in a patient’s sample — a critical step in coronavirus testing.
The hearing turned especialy testy when Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., confronted the witnesses with misleading statements made by President Trump, repeating his claims that the tests were available to anybody who wanted one and are “perfect” and “beautiful.”
“The president has made some bizarre statements,” Lynch said. “We really need honesty here.”
“When the president is making statements like this, we need pushback from the public health officials,” he continued. “Standing behind him and nodding silently or an eye roll every once in awhile is not going to get us there.”
“I appreciate your comments,” Fauci pushed back,sounding offended. “But I can tell you absolutely that I tell the president, the vice president and everyone on the task force what the data is and what the evidence is. I have never held back on exactly what is going on from a public health standpoint.”
Rep. Stephen Lynch urges health officials to “push back” against Trump’s “bizarre” statements on coronavirus: “Standing behind him and nodding silently … is not going to get us.”
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) March 11, 2020
When asked to give a projection on the number of cases, Fauci said it depends on the government’s response.
“I can’t get you a realistic number until we put into the factor of how we respond. If we are complacent and don’t do really aggressive containment and mitigation, the number could go way up to many, many millions.”
In a statement in contrast with what President Trump has suggested, Fauci said that there’s no guarantee warm weather will stop the spread of the virus.
“We do not know what this virus is going to do. You would hope that when we get to warmer weather it would go done, but we can’t operate under that assumption.”
When asked to compare coronavirus to the flu, Fauci said the coronavirus has a mortality rate ten times higher.
“This is a really serious problem, and people need to take it seriously,” he said.
“We would recommend that there are not large crowds,” Fauci said. “If that means not having any people in the audience when the NBA plays, so be it.”
“People always say, ‘The flu this, the flu that.’ The flu has a mortality of 0.1%. This has a mortality of 10 times that,” Fauci said, in another statement conflicting with claims President Trump has made.
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