WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top U.S. health authorities will testify on Tuesday to a Senate committee looking into plans for reopening the nation’s businesses, schools and other sectors of the economy closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, as experts recommend doing so cautiously.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, Assistant Secretary of Health Brett Giroir and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn are scheduled to testify before the panel.
Fauci, Redfield and Hahn have been taking self-quarantine steps after announcements they had come into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Each of the witnesses will be testifying remotely at Tuesday’s hearing, according to a committee aide.
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander is also self-quarantining in his home state of Tennessee for 14 days after a member of his staff tested positive for COVID-19. He will chair the hearing virtually, his office said on Sunday.
The shuttering of businesses to combat the spread of the coronavirus has led to mass layoffs of workers, sparking the greatest economic disruption to the United States since the Great Depression nearly a century ago.
Republican President Donald Trump, who previously made the strength of the economy central to his pitch for his November re-election bid, has encouraged states to reopen businesses that had been deemed non-essential amid the pandemic.
So far, his administration has largely left it to states to decide whether and how to reopen. State governors are taking varying approaches, with a growing number relaxing tough restrictions enacted to slow the outbreak, even as opinion polls show most Americans concerned about reopening too fast.
But Trump and his task force coordinating Washington’s response to the coronavirus have faced questions on how U.S. workers will be kept safe during reopening, especially after two staffers working within the White House tested positive for the virus.
One of the staffers is Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, the wife of senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller. The other is a valet to the president.
So far, the coronavirus has killed more than 80,000 people in the United States, the highest death toll of any country. Some experts say testing for the virus in most parts of the country continues to fall short of what would be needed to safely reopen.
Senate Democrats, including Patty Murray, her party’s senior member on the Senate health committee, called on Trump to allocate $25 billion in funding to ramp up testing.
Fauci’s appearance at the Republican-controlled Senate committee comes after the White House blocked the 79-year-old infectious disease expert from testifying to a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives panel, calling it “counterproductive.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to unveil a sweeping coronavirus-response bill, possibly this week, that would likely provide more funding for testing, new state and local government aid and another round of direct payments to people to help them meet their daily living costs. Congress has already passed trillions of dollars in emergency relief.
Reporting by Makini Brice and Richard Cowan; Editing by Peter Cooney
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