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Report: United States Not Even Among The Top 20 Countries In Virus Testing, Per Capita. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 12, 2020 - 12:30   ET



SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN (D-NH): -- the other measures you've talked about, so that we continue to need to identify the need and then build our capacity towards the need, not the other way around.

I wanted to start with a question to you, Dr. Fauci. First of all, thank you for your work and your expertise. I wanted to talk about nursing homes for a minute. In New Hampshire and across the country, a huge number of the tests from COVID-19 that we are seeing have been in nursing homes.

We all know people who have lost a friend or family member in nursing homes, and the grief compounded by the fact that people couldn't be at the loved ones bedside, if they die. Yesterday, Dr. Birx said that all 1 million nursing home residents should be tested within the next two weeks, as well as all nursing home staff.

Dr. Fauci, as a short term goal that makes sense to me but after that, what will the ongoing federal recommendations look like? How frequently do we need to test patients and staff on a continuous basis and what other measures will be necessary to keep our loved ones in these facilities safe?


The general plan, as you mentioned, that was recommended by Dr. Birx is the sound plan, as you said in the immediate. Question is in the long range, we will have to have infection control capabilities in nursing homes that are really pristine and it really unassailable. We'd have to do the kinds of surveillances and have to have the capability of when you identify someone you get out of that particular environment so that they don't spread the infection throughout.

So general testing for all, I think is a good start. But when you look where you're going to go in the future, there has to be a considerable degree of surveillance capability.

HASSAN: Thank you, doctor. The White House is now requiring all staff to wear masks and anyone in regular contact with the President will be tested daily. Do you think nursing homes should implement those same measures to help make sure that our seniors can get the same level of protection?

FAUCI: I think there should be a certain -- a system in place, the optimal protection of people in nursing homes. And that would be not necessarily testing every person every day. That's one approach that might not be practical when you think of all the nursing homes in the country.

But strict regulations and guidelines about who is allowed to go into the nursing home and the staff, I believe, needs to be monitored very carefully, with intermittent testing to make sure that we don't have introduction into the nursing home of infected individuals.

I'm not sure you can practically do it testing every day that I don't think would be feasible. But something that is much more aggressive than has been through in the past, I believe should be done.

HASSAN: Well, thank you. I have one last question for Dr. Fauci and Dr. Redfield. I would also just say that if we are able to get masks to everybody in the White House, I hope we can get masks that every nursing home employee needs it.

Dr. Fauci and Dr. Redfield, U.S. needs to be preparing now to ensure that we have capacity in manufacturer and administer vaccines something you've both touched on both from eventual COVID-19 vaccine, as well as other illnesses such as the flu.

The failure to ramp up production of testing and personal protective equipment early on during this crisis made things worse here. And those mistakes can't be repeated when it comes to vaccine production and distribution. We are already seeing reports that some children are not receiving routinely immunizations, as it becomes more difficult to access in person care.

Dr. Fauci, what steps can we take now to ensure that we have sufficient manufacturing and distribution capacity for COVID-19 vaccine without putting at risk capacity, manufacture, and distributor, and other important products, such as a flu or measles vaccine? And my follow up question to Dr. Redfield would be, what efforts are underway at CDC to ensure that all routine vaccines are accessible during the COVID-19 public health emergency?

FAUCI: Yes, thank you for that question Senator Hassan. I'll answer it as quickly as possible. I alluded to this in my introductory remarks when I was talking about vaccines for COVID-19. And what we said that as we do the testing on these vaccines, we are going to make production at risk, which means we will start putting hundreds of millions of dollars of federal government money in development and production of vaccine doses before we even know it works.

So that when we do and I hope we will and I have cautious optimism that we will, ultimately get an effective and safe vaccine that we will have doses available to everyone who needs it in the United States and even contribute to the -- what is the needs globally because we are partnering with a number of other countries.

[12:35:03] The other part of your question about making sure that when we get into a situation like the so called shutdown that we might be in now that we make sure that children get the vaccinations that they need, because that would be an unintended consequence of shutting down as we are right now. It's a very good point. We want to make sure we don't fall behind on that also. Thank you.

HASSAN: Thank you very much. And I'll take my answer from Dr. Redfield offline. Thank you so much for allowing me to vote.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-TN): Thank you Senator Hassan. Senator Scott.

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): Thank you, Mr. Chairman and to the panel. Thank you all for being here virtually without any question, we find ourselves in a situation that we wish we were not.

I'm very thankful for folks like Dr. Birx, Dr. Fauci, and many others for your dedication 24/7 without any question. Our nation is safer because of your hard work. I'm going to direct my questions towards Dr. Fauci really, one specific question, Dr. Fauci and I'm thinking about the reopening of American specifically the reopening of South Carolina.

I'm taking into consideration the fact that in South Carolina, I think overall our cases are moving in the right direction. We have a little less than 8,000 cases, unfortunately 350 deaths. Our hospital capacity is actually better now than it was when the pandemic started. Our ability to isolate hotspots and mitigate the spread of the virus is I think where it needs to be. With that in mind, I flew in the Washington from South Carolina yesterday.

We have plans to test additionally 220,000 more residents by the end of this month, focusing on at risk populations. By the end of this month, we will have tested 100 percent, 100 percent of nursing home residents and the staff that takes care of them. And after increasing our contact tracing workforce 20 fold in the matter of weeks, our state's Health Department announced yesterday that we're going to increase it by an additional 1,400 contact tracers.

We have built and we continue to build the tools necessary to better detect and isolate cases to map their exposure and to prevent substantial spikes moving forward. Most importantly, our healthcare system, thanks in part to flexibilities from this administration has the beds and the equipment necessary to address the most serious cases when they arise.

Now with these tools in hand, we have begun to reopen. To be clear, we continue to scale up testing and to make -- to take measures to protect the most vulnerable. And the data points are increasingly clear. For older Americans and for those with chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, this virus remains a threat, a dangerous threat.

A recent report suggested that in New York, roughly 90 percent of the fatalities had underlying issues, two-thirds of fatalities were 70 years or older, 95 percent over the age of 50. In South Carolina, the median age of patients who've died from the virus 76 and a half, nearly two-thirds of fatalities have been patients older than 71 and nearly 90 percent were over the age of 60. And roughly 98 percent in South Carolina are over the age of 50.

Contrast that with those aged 20 and younger, where we've seen no deaths, fewer than 1 percent of deaths in my state have been under the age of 40. Every single death is a tragedy, every single one. And we mourn with our family members who have lost their loved ones.

We are taking every measure to protect our older South Carolinians as well as those with underlying conditions. But when we set out to flatten the curve by taking aggressive unprecedented measures, like staying at home orders and mass small business closures, we didn't set out with the goal of preventing 100 percent fatalities. That would be unrealistic. It is impossible.

And we didn't set out to keep quarantines in place until we found a safe and effective vaccine that would take too long. Dr. Redfield, your agency put out a helpful graphic showing two curves. One, was spiked quickly and peat high (ph), reflected daily cases without protective measures. The other flatter curve showed cases with those measures in place.

And the whole point which is graphic illustrated, was to make sure that we did not exceed hospital capacity. So while I respect the need for caution, we are too often presented with a false dichotomy either saving our economy or saving lives. We've seen the goalpost around flattening the curve move. And I think that's unfortunate, because at the same time we're doing that, businesses have collapsed, mental and physical health have declined, depths of despair escalate educational outcomes nosedive, as we wait in our living room spraying for some good news around therapies and around vaccines.


We set out to flatten the curve. And I think we've done a pretty good job with that. We need to do better and we will do better. My question Dr. Fauci is as we start the process of moving towards reopening South Carolina, what else would you suggest that we could do to protect our most vulnerable populations?

FAUCI: Thank you, Senator. Scott. You gave a really very eloquent description of what I think is, one, would be a model way, the way you've approached this. I mean, you have put things in place that I think would optimize your capability of reopening. And I was -- as I was thinking, as you were speaking, I almost want to clone that and make sure other people hear about that and see what you've been doing.

The issue of your direct question to me about the vulnerable populations is that, as we have said in our guidelines, and it looks like you are ready to progress carefully, because you put into place a very good system, that the vulnerables, the elderly, and those with underlying conditions, should be those who at the very last, lifting of mitigations should be those who are left in a situation where they might be in danger of getting infected. In other words, protect them right up until the very end of the relaxation of your mitigation, because as you said very correctly, those are the individuals that are the most vulnerable to the morbidity and mortality.

So Those of individuals particularly I might say, Sir, those in the minority group, the African-American and Hispanics, who for a variety of situations that are the social determinants of health have a greater likelihood of not only getting infected, but of also having the underlying conditions that would make their risk for high degree of morbidity and mortality higher.

So it looks like you're doing things very, very well. And I would encourage you to continue and to follow the guidelines as you get closer to normalizing your state. Thank you.

SCOTT: Thank you Dr. Fauci. And I'll just simply close with this because I'm out of time. Thank you for the many conversations that you and I have had about those vulnerable populations to include minorities, as well as our senior citizens. I will say that without any question when you look at nursing homes, as typically, African- Americans and Hispanics are the certified nursing assistants who are providing care for the elderly population. So your focus on those two very vulnerable groups is much appreciated and thank you for your expertise.

ALEXANDER: Thank you Senator Scott. And Senator Smith.

SEN. TINA SMITH (D-MN): Thank you so much Chair Alexander and Ranking Member Murray. And thanks to all of you for being here today and for your service.

Dr. Fauci, I have to say you are in the unenviable position of being the person that so many Americans and Minnesotans trust, to give us the straight scoop and tell us what's really happening. You're about the facts and not about the politics. And that's a really good thing. So I have to start by asking a question that I think a lot of Americans want to know, which is how are you doing? How are you holding up? It's been an unbelievable effort.

FAUCI: I'm doing fine, Senator, thank you very much for asking. This is this is such an important problem. It transcends all of us individually and has to be working as a team. And I enjoy very much working with your senators and the governors because it's at the local level that we're going to make this thing works. I'm fine. I appreciate your concern.

SMITH: Well, a lot of people are thinking about you and are grateful for your service as we are for all of you, you know. So we're gathered today to think about what we need to do to reopen our economy. And I think first about what's happening in my home State of Minnesota where agriculture is such an important part of how our state works. It's a part of our history and our future.

Pork processors right now are looking at the reality of euthanizing thousands of hogs a day because there is no place to process them because of what's happening in the processing plants. And the working people who do the hard work and those processing plants are getting sick.

So here's one story. This is one worker. The Star Tribune wrote about this named Hamari de Jesus (ph). She's an asylum seeker and a mom who works for a contractor that does the cleaning and the processing plants. And she works for $14 an hour, seven hours a day, five days a week. And her job was to sanitize the machines that process the meat into ground meat. And she started feeling sick on April 11th, but she kept going to work.


And on April 21st, when one of her co workers fainted, she told her supervisor that she felt sick and so she was told to go home but that if she didn't show any signs of illness, she should come back. She went to the doctor and she paid $115 to get a test and found out a few days later that she was COVID positive and she's still at home. She's still -- she's not getting paid, and she doesn't have health insurance.

And nearly two weeks ago, President Trump deployed the Defense Production Act to keep these processing plants open. But the USDA gave really limited guidance about what would be safe for those workers that said, for example, in response to testing which has been such a big part of what we've been talking about today. They said this is a quote, facilities should consider the appropriate role of testing in workplace contact tracing of COVID-19 positive workers in a worksite and assessment.

So, Dr. Fauci, as we think about how we move forward we all want to open up the economy, what guidance would you give us in a situation like this here in Minnesota?

FAUCI: Well, I can give you my common sense guidance although this is not the area of my expertise. It's more in others. But it would seem that if you want to keep things like packing plants open, that you really got to provide the optimum degree of protection for the workers involved. The ability to allow them to go to work safely, and if and when individuals get infected to immediately be able to get them out and give them the proper care.

So I would think when you're calling upon people to perform essential services, you really have almost the moral responsibility to make sure they're well taken care of and well protected. And again, that's not an official proclamation. That's just me speaking as a physician and as a human being.

SMITH: Thank you, Dr. Fauci. And I think that you speak as a human being, but you also speak as the chief epidemiologist of our country and the person that we all trust. And this is the point that I want to make and drive home with everybody, which is this is the kind of guidance that we should be getting and following. And then this is the kind of -- these are the tools that we have got to have in our country if we are going to reopen our economy as we all want to do. And this -- if we move forward with reopening our economy, and yet we still have circumstances like we have in these processing plants and other places around the state, we are going to be -- we're going to be right back where we started, and except even in a worse place as I think you've pointed out Dr. Fauci.

FAUCI: Right. Thank you, Senator. And again, it really does relate to one of the questions that one of your colleagues senators asked me before, that one of the things that I keep emphasizing and I'll just repeat it again, because it's important, that when you are in the process of opening up and pulling back on mitigation, you really must have in place the capability of responding when you do have the inevitable upticks in cases that will absolutely occur.

It's how we deal with it and how successful we are in putting the clamps on it that will prevent us from getting the kind of rebound that not only from the standpoint of illness and death would be something that's unacceptable, but it will set us back in our progress towards reopening the country.

ALEXANDER: Thank you very much, Senator Smith. Senator Romney.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): This hearing of the participants in it. And sure, I'm going to take off where Senator Hassan spoke. I understand that politicians are going to frame data in a way that's most positive politically. Of course, I don't expect that from admirals. But yesterday, you celebrated that we had done more tests and more tests per capita even than South Korea.

But you ignore the fact that they accomplished theirs at the beginning of the outbreak, while we treaded water during February and March. And as a result, by March 6th, the U.S. had completed just 2,000 tests, whereas South Korea had conducted more than 140,000 tests.

So partially as a result of that, they have 256 deaths and we have almost 80,000 deaths. I find our testing records nothing to celebrate whatsoever. The fact is, their test numbers are going down, down, down, down now because they don't have the kind of outbreak we have. Ours are going up, up, up as they have to. I think that's an important lesson for us as we think about the future.

On a separate topic, my impression is that with regards to vaccines that we're I'm critical of what we've done on testing on vaccines, we've done a pretty darn good job of moving ahead pretty aggressively. And yet the President said the other day that President Obama is responsible for our lack of a vaccine.


Dr. Fauci, is President Obama or by extension President Trump, did they do something that that made the likelihood of creating a vaccine less likely? Are either President Trump or President Obama responsible for the fact that we don't have a vaccine now or in delaying it in some in some way?

FAUCI: No, no, Senator, not at all. Certainly President Obama nor President Trump are responsible for not having a vaccine. We moved, as you said, because I described it in my opening statement, rather rapidly and no one has ever gone from knowing what the virus was to a phase one trial as fast as we've done.

So I don't think that's something that once you'd say anybody's responsible for doing anything wrong of that, I think that's right. That's the correct way to do it.

ROMNEY: Thank you that that was my impression. I was surprised by the comment, but that was my impression. Dr. Redfield, Senator Sinema and I wrote a letter to you expressing our dismay at the lack of real time data at the CDC. I'm talking about granular demographic, hospitalization, treatment data.

How is it possible in this day and age that the CDC has never established such a real time system with accurate data? And what can Congress do to rectify that so we never have to look at something like this again? Yes, there we go.

DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: There we go, sorry. Senator, thanks for the question. I think you've hit one of the -- how important they are.

The first one I focus on is day to day monetization, data analytics, and predictive data analysis. Clearly, Congress has a forward in providing funding for data monetization. And we're in the process of implementing that the reality is there's an archaic system, a non- integrated public health system.

Each Public Health Department has their own systems. This nation needs a modern, highly capable data analytics system that can do predictive analysis. I think it's one of the many shortcomings that had been identified as we went through this outbreak and I couldn't agree with you more, it's time to get that corrected.

ROMNEY: Thank you. Please help guide us as to what we need to do to make sure that happens. And I presume it's not build it ourselves, but work with companies that have that capacity and use that capacity in our favor.

Dr. Fauci, one last thing which relates to a virus and I know I'm asking you the impossible question, but we're all hoping for a vaccine obviously, it's the objective of our administration to get it as soon as they can. And from what I can tell, they're pulling out all the stops to do exactly that.

Given our history with vaccine creation for other coronaviruses, how likely is it? I mean, is it extremely likely we're going to get a vaccine within a year or two? Is it just more likely than not? Or is it kind of a long shot?

FAUCI: It's definitely not a long shot, Senator Romney. I would think that it is more likely than not that we will, because this is a virus that induces an immune response that people recover. The overwhelming majority of people recover from this virus although there is good morbidity and mortality at a level in certain populations. The very fact that the body is capable of spontaneously clearing the virus tells me that at least from a conceptual standpoint, we can stimulate the body with a vaccine that would induce a similar response. So although there's no guarantee, I think it clearly, much more likely than not that somewhere within that time frame, we will get a vaccine for this virus.

ROMNEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield.

ALEXANDER: Thank you, Senator Romney. I want to thank the witnesses for their patience. We have four more senators, and we'd like to give them a chance to ask their questions. So Senator Jones.

SEN. DOUG JONES (D-AL): Thank you very, very much, Mr. Chairman. And thanks to all our witnesses for your being here virtually and also for your incredible service during this time.

I want to follow up real quick with an additional statistic that Senator Romney talked about with regard to South Korea, and that is the fact that we are a nation that has about six times the population of South Korea, but yet we have about 310 times the number of deaths from this pandemic. So I think we have to be very careful in making comparisons around the world comparing the United States to other countries.


Dr. Redfield on a follow up just a little bit with what Senator Murkowski and I think Senator Kaine talked a little bit about contact tracing and where we're going. I understand that you are working with states to try to develop plans for reopening. The testing is important. The contact tracing is important. But using that data as well is also going to be important in terms of the quarantine plans that Senator Murphy talked about.

Childcare facilities to have allow people to put their kids in a facility while they are still go back to work. All of those issues, including maybe even facilities like vacant hotels or motels that may be used for self isolation. How is this plan being developed within the CDC? Are those plans going to be individualized by state? Will we as a member of Congress be have access to those plans? And how our state is going to pay for these?

And I say that because my state already using the money that we've already given them as a wish list. I mean, they're talking about building a $200 million state house, as opposed to developing the test and doing the contact tracing. So I'd like to just to drill down a little bit on how these plans are going to develop, what access we will have to have those plans and be able to see them?

REDFIELD: Thank you very much, Senator. This is obviously as I said before, this is a critical component of us taking this time that we have now to get prepared for next fall and winter and building that comprehensive contact tracing capacity.

We're working individually with the leadership of the state Health Department, the local Health Departments, territorial and tribal, to try to let them, you know, to understand what they think their capacity needs are. And those discussions have already happened as Admiral Gerard said, there's been a variety of federal agencies together on testing and contact tracing.

CDC is in position that we've reprogram our individuals that we have plus the country. We're 500, beginning to help each of these states. We already amended that with some additional personnel that we're bringing on board, state by state, through our foundation. We've moved about $106 billion in the money that Congress has appropriated into the states so they can begin to start thinking about how do they want to hire and return contact tracing capability.

And then of course, it was mentioned that we're both other government programs like AmeriCorps, this is Peace Corps, so that each group is going to construct their contact tracing piece to what they think their needs are. And I do think it is going to be similar to what we've heard from the Senator from South Carolina. These are increases. He said he increase are 20 fold. And, you know, they're going to increase again.

But the point you brought up is so critically important. And we found that as we already struggled through the repatriation of different Americans from around the country where we had to put many of these in quarantine, as you know, that are using military bases, because many of the state and local health departments really develop that system.

Where do they put somebody who to be in isolation who's homeless? How do you develop the system? So this has to be part of the two is it there's certain capacity that's intrinsic or is it hotels, as you mentioned. I think the point that was made by one of the other senators is so important about individuals that particularly like, they, the meatpacking individual that has to go home and self isolate.

But maybe they have ability to go home and self isolated because they've been in multi -- General Jefferson House (ph) with about 12 other people -- mechanisms to be brought in and they have an effective way to identify cases -- and then do the appropriate public health measure.

And then these have to be comprehensive, it's going to be developed jurisdiction at a time. I see no reason why these are not transparent documents as they get it completed. And it really is a tribute to what the congressional support you've given. So far, as I said, $1.6 billion spent into the state and then again to do this, in addition to the resources that we've gotten.

But it is fundamental. People underestimate how important it is that we have a highly functional comprehensive, aggressive contact tracing program so that the next to this outbreak, we containment, we don't have to switch for mitigation.

JONES: Right. Thank you, Dr. Redfield. I appreciate it. It sounds to me like we've still got a lot of work to do. So thank you.

ALEXANDER: Thank you very much, Senator Jones. Senator Braun. [13:00:01]

SEN. MIKE BRAUN (R-IN): Thank you, Chairman. There's been so much discussion about testing in general. I listened to Senator Romney earlier. I think Senator --