Fauci Says US Could Reach 100,000 Coronavirus Cases a Day

WASHINGTON — The government’s top infectious disease expert said on Tuesday that the rate of new coronavirus infections could more than double to 100,000 a day if current outbreaks were not contained, warning that the virus’s march across the South and the West “puts the entire country at risk.”

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, offered the grim prediction while testifying on Capitol Hill, telling senators that no region of the country is safe from the virus’s resurgence. The number of new cases in the United States has shot up by 80 percent in the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database, with new hot spots flaring far from the Sun Belt epicenters.

“I can’t make an accurate prediction, but it is going to be very disturbing, I will guarantee you that,” Dr. Fauci said, “because when you have an outbreak in one part of the country, even though in other parts of the country they are doing well, they are vulnerable.”

New flash points have weighed down talk of a resumption of normal life and a quick economic rebound. The chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome H. Powell, issued his own gloomy assessment, cautioning lawmakers on Tuesday of an “extraordinarily uncertain” moment facing the American economy.

Dr. Redfield told senators that his agency has spent about three months developing a plan to rebuild “vaccine confidence.” Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the Health Committee, sounded alarmed, telling Dr. Redfield to speed up the work.

“We need to see that plan,” she said. “We need to know what it is. The public needs to know what it is.”

Dr. Redfield said that the C.D.C.’s plan was being developed with Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s crash vaccine program that aims to have 300 million doses of a vaccine by early next year. Officials at the Defense Department and the Department of Health and Human Services involved in that project have spent significant time discussing a public-relations campaign that will in part try to win over Americans suspicious of a coronavirus vaccine, according to a senior administration official.

There are more than 140 vaccines being developed against the coronavirus. Seven in 10 Americans have said they would get vaccinated against the novel coronavirus if immunizations were free and available to everyone, according to recent polling — a number that health officials fear may not be enough to achieve “herd immunity,” a term that signifies that a vast majority of a population has protection against infection.

At least 70 percent will need to be immune to the virus to reach that point, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Officials are particularly concerned that African-Americans and others who have been hit hard by the pandemic may be hesitant about vaccinations because of longstanding suspicions of government programs like the Tuskegee experiment, in which poor Black men suffering from syphilis were left untreated and monitored.

“It is a reality: a lack of trust of authority, a lack of trust in government and a concern about vaccines in general,” Dr. Fauci said. He added that there needed to be “boots on the ground,” especially near minority communities that “have not always been treated fairly by the government.”

Masks — and Mr. Trump’s refusal to wear one — were a central issue at the hearing. The Republican chairman of the Health Committee, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, prefaced his opening statement with an appeal to the president to set a better example by occasionally covering his face.

Mr. Alexander lamented that masks had “become part of the political debate,” with people’s decision about whether to wear one dependent on their views of Mr. Trump.

“The president has plenty of admirers,” Mr. Alexander said. “They would follow his lead; it would help end this political debate. The stakes are too high for this political debate about pro-Trump, anti-Trump to continue.”

In his testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week, Dr. Fauci warned that the next two weeks would be critical to controlling the virus’s spread, and said it was not yet under control in the United States. On Tuesday he sounded even more downbeat, provoking a backlash from one Republican, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who delivered a five-minute sermon denouncing “central planners” and health experts who opine on matters like sports.

“Dr. Fauci, every day, virtually every day, we seem to hear from you things we can’t do,” Mr. Paul, an ophthalmologist, said, adding: “All I hear is, we can’t do this. We can’t do that. We can’t play baseball.”

Dr. Fauci agreed that he was “completely unqualified to tell you whether you can play a sport or not,” but added that he was only trying, “to the best of my ability,” to disseminate facts and evidence about the outbreak.

The senator sounded exasperated. “We just need more optimism,” he said.

But Dr. Fauci stood firm. “We cannot forget,” he told senators at the end of the session, “that what was thought to be unimaginable turned out to be the reality that we’re facing right now.”

Patricia Mazzei contributed reporting from Miami.

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