Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, is warning Congress that if the country reopens too soon during the coronavirus pandemic, it will result in "needless suffering and death."
Fauci is among the health experts testifying to a Senate panel. His testimony comes as President Donald Trump is praising states that are reopening after the prolonged lock-down aimed at controlling the virus' spread.
Fauci, a member of the coronavirus task force charged with shaping the response to COVID-19, which has killed tens of thousands of people in the U.S., is testifying via video conference after self-quarantining as a White House staffer tested positive for the virus.
With the U.S. economy in free-fall and more than 30 million people unemployed, Trump has been pressuring states to reopen.
Fauci, in a statement to The New York Times, warned that officials should adhere to federal guidelines for a phased reopening, including a "downward trajectory" of positive tests or documented cases of coronavirus over two weeks, robust contact tracing and "sentinel surveillance" testing of asymptomatic people in vulnerable populations, such as nursing homes.
"If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines...then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country," Fauci wrote.
"This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal."
Other senior health officials scheduled to testify before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee will also appear via video link after going into self-quarantine, following their exposure to a White House staffer who tested positive. The chairman of the committee, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, also put himself in quarantine after an aide tested positive. He'll participate by video, too.
Besides Fauci, of the National Institutes of Health, the other experts include FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn and Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with Adm. Brett Giroir, the coronavirus "testing czar" at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Even before the gavel drops, the hearing offers two takeaways for the rest of the country, said John Auerbach, president of the nonprofit public health group Trust for America's Health.