By ANNE FLAHERTY, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Anthony Fauci and other top U.S. health officials on Tuesday warned that the U.S. health care system faces a “tremendous burden” this fall with the onset of the flu season and COVID-19 still circulating within communities.
Still, in a Senate hearing focused on the reopening of schools, the panel was expected to stick to its longtime suggestion that school openings be left up to each individual community based on how widespread the virus is there and whether local hospitals can handle an increase in sick patients.
“While it remains unclear how long the pandemic will last, COVID-19 activity will likely continue for some time,” the panel wrote in remarks prepared for the hearing by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
“It is also unclear what impact the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will have on health care and public health systems during the upcoming influenza season,” the officials wrote. “If there is COVID-19 and flu activity at the same time, this could place a tremendous burden on the health care system related to bed occupancy, laboratory testing needs, personal protective equipment and health care worker safety.”
Testifying are Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Stephen Hahn, head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; and Adm. Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary of Health who is coordinating testing efforts.
Their testimony follows reports by researchers of the existence of nearly 300 cases of COVID-19 in children causing multisystem inflammation syndrome. Health officials have said relatively little about the impacts of the virus on children, saying more study is needed and the troubling symptoms of MIS are rare.
The hearing also follows remarks by another top official at CDC, Anne Schuchat, who told a JAMA conference on Monday of the recent surge in cases across several states: “This is really the beginning.”
Fauci and the other health officials say schools should review CDC guidance and make their own decisions on whether the latest uptick in states like Arizona, Florida and Texas should mean delaying in-person school this fall.
“School administrators and officials can consult with state and local health officials to determine how to put these considerations into place. In addition, schools may need to make adjustments to meet their unique needs and circumstances,” according to the prepared remarks.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the panel, said in prepared remarks that reopening schools is important. But he also implored the American public and the president to wear masks.
In prepared remarks, he was expected to tell his colleagues at the hearing that the only reason he was not wearing a mask while speaking was because he was six-feet apart from others. And he was expected to say that if Trump wore a mask, even when it wasn’t necessary, others would follow his lead.
“Unfortunately this simple lifesaving practice has become part of a political debate that says: If you’re for Trump, you don’t wear a mask. If you’re against Trump, you do,” said Alexander, R-Tennessee in the prepared remarks. “That is why I have suggested the president should occasionally wear a mask even though there are not many occasions when it is necessary for him to do so.”
“The president has millions of admirers,” he added. “They would follow his lead. It would help end this political debate. The stakes are too high for it to continue. Around here, senators and staff wear masks—because we don’t want to make each other sick.”
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