Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Tuesday agreed that the official death toll from the coronavirus in the United States is likely undercounting the real number of deaths attributable to the virus and warned against a too-rapid reopening of the economy by lawmakers.
Asked by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during a Senate hearing conducted via video conference if the actual figure was higher than the more than 80,000 Americans listed as having died from Covid-19, Fauci said, "I think you are correct that the number is likely higher. I don't know exactly what percent higher, but almost certainly is higher."
Asked by @SenSanders if the U.S. coronavirus death count of 80,000 is accurate, Fauci's response:
— CAP Action (@CAPAction) May 12, 2020
Sanders noted that some epidemiologists believe the actual number of deaths so far may be as much as 50% higher than the official count, which was 81,805 as of Tuesday, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center tracker.
Fauci's testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on Tuesday coincided with the release of new polling that showed a majority of Americans do not believe the federal government is doing enough to prevent a second wave of the coronavirus.
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Fifty-eight percent of respondents surveyed by CNN said the government's approach will not help the U.S. to avoid a second spike in nationwide cases. The vast majority of the 1,112 people polled said they are either "afraid" or "concerned" about a second wave; just 18% said they were unconcerned.
More than half of the respondents said they did not approve of the federal government's attempts thus far to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Fauci's testimony and the new polling came amid an aggressive push by many Republican leaders to send Americans back to work—and to daily life—as quickly as possible, with several GOP-run states threatening to end workers' unemployment benefits and classify them as voluntarily quitting if they don't return to their jobs once their industry opens—regardless of whether case numbers in their communities are rising.
Fauci told senators that as of now, due to government shutdowns and strict social distancing measures, he believes "we are going in the right direction" in terms of containing the virus, but warned that the progress could be erased if the country attempts to reopen businesses, schools, and public venues too quickly.
"There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you might not be able to control," Fauci said. "Not only leading to some suffering and death, but it could even set you back on the road to get economic recovery."