WASHINGTON - The top U.S. infectious disease expert on Monday warned protesters who are ignoring their governors’ stay-at-home orders that the country will not recover economically until the ravaging coronavirus is under control.
Street protests against governors have erupted in several state capitals in recent days, with demonstrators calling for an easing of restrictions that have shut businesses and led to the layoff of 22 million workers.
Some protesters have chanted, “Fire Fauci!”, targeting Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has frequently cautioned President Donald Trump against reopening the country’s economy too quickly for fear of a resurgence of the virus. Trump has pushed to restart the world’s largest economy as quickly as possible, targeting May 1, and laid out a three-phase plan to return the country to a sense of normalcy.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” show that the protesters could be hurting the chances for economic recovery.
“This is something that is hurting from the standpoint of economics, from the standpoint of things that have nothing to do with the virus,” he said.
“Unless we get the virus under control, the real recovery economically is not going happen,” he said. “So what you do if you jump the gun and go into a situation where you have a big spike (in more coronavirus cases), you’re going to set yourself back."
Fauci said that while it is painful to follow guidelines of a gradually phased reopening, moving too quickly and avoiding restrictions is “going to backfire. That’s the problem.”
Trump has praised the protesters, saying that some governors “have gone too far” in imposing restrictions.
He said that those angered by the stay-at-home orders had a right to demonstrate. He claimed, erroneously, that they are maintaining physical distancing guidelines by staying two meters away from each other.
Last week, as the protests first erupted, he called for the demonstrators to “liberate” three states led by opposition Democratic governors in Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia.
After several governors said over the weekend that they do not have enough coronavirus tests in their states, Trump said late Sunday an agreement is close with a U.S. company to shift its operations to make 10 million swabs a month. In addition, he said the government will use its authority to force a second company to boost its swab production by more than 20 million per month.
Fauci said the U.S. is now testing about 150,000 people a day but needs to double or triple that figure.
“We need a partnership between the federal government and the local people, including the governors, to help them get the things they maybe not have any access to,” he told ABC.
He said the goal of the tests remains to identify people with coronavirus, isolate them and then trace their contacts with others to see if they also have the disease.
Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the White House coronavirus task force, told “Fox News Sunday” he believes there are a “sufficient” number of test kits available for “any state” to move into the first phase of new governmental guidelines for slowly returning the country to work and a sense of normalcy.
But several governors disputed Pence’s contention, including Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in the eastern state of Maryland, who is also chair of the National Governors Association.
"The administration I think is trying to ramp up testing, they are doing some things with respect to private labs," Hogan told CNN. "But to try to push this off, to say the governors have plenty of testing and they should just get to work on testing, somehow we aren't doing our jobs, is absolutely false."
Democratic Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia told CNN that claims by Trump and Pence that states have plenty of tests were "just delusional."
Meanwhile, Trump and Democratic lawmakers are close to a $470 billion deal that would add another $310 billion to the fund to help thousands of small businesses in the U.S. that have been forced to close their operations in the face of stay-at-home orders issued by 43 of the 50 U.S. state governors to curb the spread of the virus.
Trump and Congress initially approved a $350 billion small business fund, but with thousands of businesses applying for the money, the fund ran out of money last week and the government stopped taking more applications for the cash.
If businesses spend the money on paying workers over the next eight weeks, the government says it will foot the bill for the payments and the businesses will not have to repay the money. Otherwise, the money turns into a loan that must be repaid.
The new funding will also add another $100 billion for hospitals and coronavirus testing, along with $60 billion for a separate small business loan program, officials said.