WASHINGTON - The top U.S. government infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, predicted Sunday that 100,000 or more Americans could die from the coronavirus pandemic, 50 times the current death toll.
Fauci told CNN that the U.S. could have “millions of cases” of COVID-19, a vast spread of the pandemic in the country, where officials now officially count 124,000 confirmed cases and 2,100 deaths, although both figures are rapidly increasing by the day.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Thomas Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University, both rebuffed suggestions by President Donald Trump that the advice to stay home and social distance with other people to prevent the spread of the coronavirus can be eased. Trump suggested last week that U.S. businesses would be “raring to go” by Easter Sunday in two weeks.
Fauci said he would only support any easing of anti-coronavirus protections in lesser-impacted regions of the country if there is increased availability of testing to monitor those areas. But he said, “It's a little iffy there" currently.
Initial U.S. social distancing recommendations to slow the spread of the virus end Monday, but Inglesby told the “Fox News Sunday” show, “I don’t think we’ve had anywhere near enough time” for the restrictions to have an appreciable effect. “We must hold steady with social distancing.”
The pace of the coronavirus toll in the U.S. has been frightening, with the first 1,000 deaths recorded over a month, and the second 1,000 over the last two days.
Trump suggested last week that the country can soon safely return to work while continuing to ”social distance ourselves and wash our hands.”
Asked whether that would be a viable strategy, Inglesby said, “I don’t think so.”
He said if the U.S. workforce, millions of whom are teleworking from home or furloughed by their employers, return too soon, the coronavirus will spread “widely and aggressively. We really should hold the course.”
He said any relaxation of protections against the spread of the virus should be a “conditions-based decision.”
Inglesby said “it’s not clear to me” when restrictions might have had enough of an effect to gradually return to normal life in the U.S.
Vice President Mike Pence, who is heading Trump’s coronavirus task force, told Fox News in a separate interview, that in the coming days he would “bring data to him” about the advance of the disease.
“We’ll open up our country as soon as we can responsibly do so,” Pence said.
While the number of the confirmed coronavirus cases is spiraling, Pence said it “should be encouraging to Americans” that of the hundreds of thousands of people who have been tested for the virus in the U.S. only 10% have tested positive.
But Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, warned of dire days ahead with the death toll already spiraling. She said Trump’s actions have proved deadly, with his initial denial of the impact of the pandemic and the government’s ongoing delays in getting medical equipment dispatched around the country where it is needed most.
“We have to prevent more loss of life rather than open things up,” she said on CNN. “We have to have testing, testing, testing.”
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of the eastern state of Maryland echoed the health experts in warning against moving too quickly to fully reopen the country.
“We’re going to follow the advice of doctors and scientists,” he told Fox News. He said that rather than the country returning to normal by Easter, the Christian holy day, “We think it’s going to be worse in two weeks, not better.”
He said that Trump, with his suggestion of a quick return to normalcy, “is just trying to be hopeful.”
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who has sparred with the Republican Trump over the shortage of hospital gear for health care professionals treating coronavirus victims, told CNN of the “need to slow the spread” of coronavirus “to give our hospitals a fighting chance” to treat patients.
Gov. Jay Inslee of the western state of Washington, another Trump critic, said, “We have a long, long ways to go” in fighting the coronavirus.
Trump on Saturday floated the idea of imposing a quarantine around the particularly hard-hit New York metropolitan area that includes parts of the states of New Jersey and Connecticut, but backed off the idea.
Instead, health officials called on the millions who live in the megalopolis to continue to stay home and practice social distancing – staying at least two meters from other people.
Trump signed a congressionally approved $2 trillion stimulus package on Friday to boost the country’s economic fortunes from the significant damage wreaked by the coronavirus.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Fox said he would leave it “to the medical professionals” about how soon to fully reopen the country, but he said the cash infusion businesses and about 90% of American families could return the country to economic health again by the July-to-September period, even if the April-to-June period is rocky.
Some economists are saying the U.S. has already fallen into a recession and could soon see a 20% unemployment rate and a 24% decline in the country’s economy, the world’s biggest.
“I don’t know what these numbers are going to be,” Mnuchin said. But he predicted that within months there would be a “very large” growth in the country’s economy and “low numbers” in unemployment.
“We are going to kill this virus,” he said.