White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that parts of the U.S. are beginning to see a “disturbing surge” in coronavirus infections.
While New York state is seeing a decline in Covid-19 cases, other states are seeing a rise in cases that “reflect an increase in community spread,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “That’s something I’m really quite concerned about.”
The coronavirus, which has sickened more than 2.4 million Americans, continues to rapidly spread throughout the United States. As of Monday, the U.S. seven-day average of new infections increased more than 30% compared with a week ago, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. Cases are growing by 5% or more in 26 states, including Arizona, Texas, Florida and Oklahoma. Coronavirus hospitalizations are on the rise as well.
U.S. cases had risen to about an average of 30,000 infections per day at the peak of the outbreak before plateauing to around 20,000 infectious per day, Fauci said. “Now we’re going up [again]. A couple of days ago, there were 30,000 new infections.”
“That’s very troublesome to me,” he said.
There are no FDA-approved treatments for the coronavirus. U.S. health officials and scientists are racing to develop a vaccine, which Fauci expects will be ready by early next year.
Fauci told lawmakers “we need to be careful” that scientists prove a potential vaccine is safe and effective before its distributed to the public.
“I would be very disappointed if we jumped to a conclusion before we knew that a vaccine was truly safe and truly effective, because I wouldn’t want the perpetual ambiguity of not knowing whether it is truly safe and truly effective,” he said.
Scientists say they are still learning about key aspects of the virus, including how immune systems respond once a person is exposed. The answers, they say, may have large implications for vaccine development, including how quickly it can be deployed to the public.
A recent study published in Nature Medicine found coronavirus antibodies may last only two to three months after a person becomes infected with Covid-19. Researchers examined 37 asymptomatic people, those who never developed symptoms, in the Wanzhou District of China. They compared their antibody response to that of 37 people with symptoms.
Fauci reiterated Tuesday that scientists don’t know how long people are protected after a coronavirus infection.
“It’s likely you are protected, but we don’t know how long you are protected,” he said.
Black Americans are disproportionately getting sick and dying from the coronavirus. Black people constitute nearly 13% of the U.S. population but made up 23% of all Covid-19 deaths as of June 3, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
During the hearing, Fauci was asked by Rep. Bobby Rush, a Democrat from Illinois, whether institutional racism contributed to the disproportionate impact the virus has had on Black Americans. The infectious disease expert said, “yes.”
“The African-American community has suffered from racism for a very, very long period of time,” he said. “And I cannot imagine that that has not contributed to the conditions that they find themselves in economically and otherwise, so the answer, congressman, is yes.”
He was also asked about U.S. Covid-19 deaths overall. While cases and hospitalizations are on the rise, deaths appear to be on the decline. Fauci told lawmakers that deaths lag behind cases and hospitalizations.
It’s possible deaths could go up as more people go to the hospital, he said.