“If we are complacent and don’t do really aggressive containment and mitigation, the number could go way up and be involved in many, many millions,” he warned.
Fauci, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield and other emergency response officials testified before the panel Wednesday morning. But the hearing was cut short and postponed until Thursday so officials could rush to an “emergency” White House meeting with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
It wasn’t immediately clear what the meeting was about — Fauci and Redfield declined to speak to reporters as they left the Capitol — but Trump told reporters at the White House that he will make a coronavirus statement on Wednesday night.
“We don’t know what is going on, but they cannot come back,” said House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, who added that Fauci and Redfield had been “unavoidably detained.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said earlier Wednesday that the federal government would issue new guidance to U.S. communities affected by the coronavirus regarding “aggressive steps” to counter the burgeoning outbreak.
“You’re going to hear from CDC today and the White House that we’re going to be making recommendations to those local communities about aggressive steps that we think they should be taking, and we’ve been collaborating closely with them on that,” Azar told “Fox & Friends.”
The forthcoming guidelines from the White House and CDC are intended to help states and local communities figure out the point at which communities affected by the coronavirus ask people to telework, close schools and cancel large gatherings.
The administration is trying to develop a uniform set of principles to give to state and local leaders to help mitigate the spread of the virus, said one Republican close to the White House.
One administration official said the recommendations will instruct residents of communities in California, Massachusetts, New York and Washington to work from home and declare that schools should close under certain circumstances.
Azar suggested similar steps during his interview Wednesday. He said the administration is “working with places like Washington, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, California to mitigate the impacts — avoiding large social gatherings, appropriate closures of schools.”
Azar also offered a more dire warning about the nature of the outbreak, asserting that “we’ll see more cases” of the coronavirus among Americans and adding that “there is literally no way that the United States, as the center of the global economy, is immune from this.”
The Trump administration has faced criticism for the time it took to produce testing for the coronavirus as the public health crisis worsened, as well as the availability of those tests to state and local health care providers and the government’s inability to track them.
The White House has urged Silicon Valley tech companies to help combat disinformation about the coronavirus and assist the government with its response to the outbreak.
Trump has also recommended aggressive measures to boost the flagging economy, including a payroll tax cut and paid leave for hourly employees unable to work due to the outbreak.
The CDC — which announced Wednesday that it will quickly distribute more than $560 million to help state and local jurisdictions respond to the coronavirus — has advised travelers, particularly elderly travelers, to avoid long flights and cruises. Elderly people are disproportionately at risk of contracting the virus.
House Democrats are moving forward with their own economic package that proposes paid sick leave for certain workers, increased funding for children’s school lunches, expanded unemployment insurance and greater spending on social safety-net programs.
In a letter to Trump, 34 Senate Democrats called for an economic stimulus package that would help workers who will be harmed the most by the outbreak.
The Treasury Department is also considering postponing the April 15 tax filing deadline due to the outbreak. And the State Department announced that an upcoming G-7 ministerial that the U.S. was set to host in Pittsburgh later this month will now be held virtually via video teleconference “out of an abundance of caution.”
In Washington, a District of Columbia health advisory recommended the postponement or cancellation of all “non-essential mass gatherings” of 1,000 or more people through the end of March.
And in Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a ban on public gatherings of more than 250 people in three counties to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. At least 24 people have died from the virus in the state, where more than 260 cases have been confirmed.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force said it recommended 30-day mitigation strategies for three counties in Washington state and one county in California to mitigate the transmission of the virus.
“President Trump has made clear that the Task Force must move decisively to protect the health and safety of the American people,” Pence, who has spoken to Inslee and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, said. “These recommendations outline a whole-of-community approach to immediately minimize the impacts of coronavirus in these cities and towns. I look forward to the continued partnership between the Task Force and State and local leaders.”
Meanwhile, Democratic governors continued Wednesday to condemn the federal government’s handling of the outbreak. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo knocked the amount of testing that has been conducted thus far in the U.S. and urged state authorities to take on greater responsibility in the face of the administration’s insufficient response efforts.
“China was doing 200,000 tests a day. South Korea was doing 15,000 tests a day. We’ve done 5,000 to date,” Cuomo told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“So what I would say — what I have been saying to other governors — is, ‘You’re on your own,’ you know?” he continued. “Let the states take action because when they do the retrospective here … I think this is going to be the public health version of Hurricane Katrina. The federal government has just fallen down on the job, so let the states do it.”
Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker also said he was “extremely disappointed” in the administration and expressed concerns about the coronavirus’ potential effects on the state’s presidential primaries next week. He said officials were working to move polling sites away from nursing and veterans homes to limit exposure to vulnerable elderly residents and encouraged voters to cast their ballots by mail.
“We think we’re doing what’s required here to have a successful, democratic election,” Pritzker told MSNBC.
Trump, for his part, trumpeted praise from Newsom, a Democrat who credited the president for his administration’s support in the state’s repatriation of passengers from an infected cruise ship that docked in Oakland.
But he blasted critical coverage of his coronavirus response, calling a Vanity Fair report a “phony & boring hit piece.”
“Our team is doing a great job with CoronaVirus!” Trump said.
In a pair of tweets sent Wednesday afternoon, the president hailed America as the greatest country on earth with the top scientists and health care professionals.
“Together we are putting into policy a plan to prevent, detect, treat and create a vaccine against CoronaVirus to save lives in America and the world,” Trump said. “America will get it done!”
Nancy Cook and Myah Ward contributed to this report.