Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared remotely before the United States Senate to issue a warning about reopening the economy prematurely and said that the current death toll from the novel coronavirus is "almost certainly higher" than what the official count shows.
Currently, the death toll in the U.S. is over 80,000 people. Senator Bernie Sanders asked Fauci what he made of reports that some experts suggest that the death toll could be even higher than that—as much as 50 percent higher, according to The Guardian.
"I'm not sure if it's going to be 50 percent higher, but most of us feel the number of deaths are likely to be higher."This difference in the official tally is likely due to individuals who had died at home and weren't counted in the numbers. In New York City, where at least 20,000 people have died from COVID-19, this is particularly likely.
Sanders expressed frustration that President Donald Trump "downplayed the dangers of the pandemic" in its early days.
Fauci, who is the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was asked by Washington State Senator Patty Murray that while the respected immunologist has repeatedly warned against opening the country too early, President Donald Trump has been conveying a message to the opposite.
"What we have worked out is a guideline framework for how you safely open America again... I get concerned if you have a situation where you are not seeing gradual, over 14-day, decrease [in new cases of coronavirus]," he replied.Fauci says that if areas begin to see a decrease in the number of new cases, they are likely safe to begin reopening as long as they implement measures like testing and checkpoints, as well as ensuring that they have the appropriate hospital capacity should cases begin to increase.
If areas don't adhere to these guidelines, there could be negative consequences, he said.
"If places jump over those checkpoints and prematurely open up without being able to respond, we will start to see little spikes" that could expand into larger outbreaks, he warned.
Murray followed up, asking Fauci if the consequences of a premature opening without safeguards in place could be "dire."
"The consequences could be serious," he said.
During the health committee meeting, Fauci also cautioned that reopening schools in the fall could be premature because there likely won't be a vaccine or effective treatments for COVID-19 by August when colleges and public schools typically begin the semester.
Fauci was recently forced to enter a sort of modified self-quarantine after several employees working in the West Wing of the White House tested positive for the disease.