Anthony Fauci has warned that the US could see coronavirus cases soar to 100,000 a day, reflecting mounting fears in Washington that western and southern states may be unable to rein in new spikes in infections.
Dr Fauci’s warning, which the White House coronavirus task force member made in Capitol Hill testimony on Tuesday, came as the daily increase in new US infections hit 44,358, near the one-day record set on Saturday.
According to data compiled by the Covid Tracking Project, the rate of daily infections has more than doubled over the course of June, up from just 21,672 at the start of the month.
“We’re now having 40-plus thousand new cases a day. I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around,” Dr Fauci told a Senate hearing. “I am very concerned because it could get very bad.”
Florida has had the biggest increase in infections over the course of June and is now averaging nearly 7,000 new cases a day, compared with about 760 a month ago.
Texas and California, which are each averaging about 5,700 new cases a day, have had their case rates go up by 343 per cent and 123 per cent, respectively, since May 31. Texas on Tuesday recorded a new one-day record increase, with nearly 7,000 new infections.
“We’re going in the wrong direction,” Dr Fauci said. “Clearly we are not in total control right now.”
Dr Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also warned of the risks presented by clubs and bars, saying data showed they were likely contributing to the new outbreaks. “Congregating in a bar inside is bad news,” he said. “We’ve really gotta stop that right now.”
As part of their recent roll back of reopening schemes, the governors of Texas, Florida and Arizona have all ordered bars to shut, while bars in parts of California have also been ordered to close.
On Tuesday, states outside the new hotspots moved to preemptively pause or reverse reopening plans. Virginia’s governor said he would no longer allow bars to reopen as part of a new phase of easing due to start on Wednesday, and Delaware’s governor ordered bars in the state’s beach towns to close again.
“I am watching what is happening in other states; we are taking a cautious approach,” said Ralph Northam, the Virginia governor.
Both Dr Fauci and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, urged Americans to wear masks — breaking from President Donald Trump, who has shown little enthusiasm for requiring face coverings.
“It is critical that we all take the personal responsibility to slow the transmission of Covid-19 and embrace the universal use of face coverings,” Dr Redfield told senators.
Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, said the US government had “parallel messaging operations” because Mr Trump was not urging people to follow the guidelines from his public health experts.
Dr Fauci said he was disturbed at images he had seen of people ignoring social distancing. “When you’re outside and do not have the capability of maintaining distance, you should wear a mask at all times,” he said.
At the hearing, Dr Fauci said there was “no guarantee” there would be an effective vaccine for Covid-19, but that he was “cautiously optimistic” that one would be developed based on information from early trials.
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi
Coronavirus business update
How is coronavirus taking its toll on markets, business, and our everyday lives and workplaces? Stay briefed with our coronavirus newsletter.
Get alerts on Coronavirus pandemic when a new story is published